WASHINGTON — On the fourth day of Black History Month, President Donald Trump attempted to frame himself as a savior to people of color, especially Black people, during his State of the Union address.
Trump, whose real estate company was sued twice for not renting to Black people in the past, took the spotlight Tuesday night and claimed credit for the country’s historically low unemployment rate among Blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans, and the declining rates of Black poverty.
“Wealthy people and companies are pouring money into poor neighborhoods or areas that haven’t seen investment in many decades, creating jobs, energy, and excitement,” Trump said. “This is the first time that these deserving communities have seen anything like this. It’s all working.”
The president was referring to tax breaks passed by Republicans in 2017 that created so-called opportunity zones that were supposed to encourage investment in poor areas. The New York Times recently reported that the program had instead created a “wave of developments financed by and built for the wealthiest Americans,” including high-end apartment buildings built with untaxed profits.
Despite what Trump thinks, he remains unpopular with Black voters. The president is considered to be a racist by more than 80% of Black Americans, according to a Washington Post/Ipsos poll last month.
Trump recognized several Black people in attendance at his speech: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Army veteran Tony Raskins, retired Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee and his great-grandson, and fourth-grader Janiyah Davis and her single mother. Trump used their stories to promote policies he sees as appealing to voters of color, such as school choice and opportunity zones.
After the speech, the president was quickly condemned by Democratic members of Congress for exploiting these people and using them as political props for the country to see.
“Totally insulting,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told HuffPost in a call after the speech. She pointed out the applause that Sen. Scott received during the address for his work on opportunity zones.
“Using African-Americans tonight as props … this was just surreal to me, like a Hollywood show,” Lee said.
“All of these people are to be respected, but when he touts them like that to make a point and to give himself credit for something he has not really done, it’s just as low as you can go,” she continued.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said Trump “exploited the most vulnerable people” in his speech. “He has exploited people of color.”
Trump was “talking about he had gotten that child an opportunity to go to a better school and the mother is smiling because I think she honestly believed that he’s working on behalf of our children and that he had done a wonderful thing for her, but she was simply used and misused this evening,” said Waters, who has spectacularly clashed with Trump in the past. “Those are the kind of tactics and antics of a president who has no respect.”
Trump also used his speech to lionize right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, a longtime Trump supporter with a history of racist remarks who announced this week he has advanced lung cancer. Trump awarded the broadcaster the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Like Trump, Limbaugh has pushed the lie that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Earlier in the address, the president lauded Gen. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary group of Black military pilots who served in World War II. Later, he launched into a xenophobic tirade about undocumented immigrants, describing them as “criminal aliens” running loose in sanctuary cities.
The speech, like his reelection campaign’s Super Bowl ad touting his commutation of a life sentence for nonviolent offender Alice Marie Johnson, and his supporters’ cash giveaways in Black communities, show how Trump plans to court Black voters in 2020 — sleight-of-hand appeals, self-aggrandizing claims of success and hollow promises.
Meanwhile, he’s still attacking policies that actually help communities of color, like the Affordable Care Act. And he never let go of the birther lie.