In Speech to Congress, Trump Pits Black and Latino Communities Against Each Other
Historian Gerald Horne says Trump was attempting to disrupt working class unity while ignoring that the police are the greatest threats to these communities
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
On Tuesday night amid protests outside of the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump departed to deliver his first Joint Congressional Address. In his speech, he certainly made an effort to move away from his usual divisive campaign rhetoric, which he repeated during his Inaugural Address, and tried to sound more unifying. In fact, he actually said that he was to deliver this message of unity and strength. So, let’s hear some of what he had to say.
DONALD TRUMP: For too long we’ve watched our middle class shrink, as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries. We financed and built one global project after another but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land. We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate. And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.
SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about President Trump’s speech with me is Dr. Gerald Horne. He is John J. and Rebecca Morris Chair of History in African-American Studies at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books including, “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of The United States of America”. Gerald, it’s so good to have you with us today.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Gerald, let’s take apart that speech. Trump certainly made an effort to step away from his usual divisive rhetoric. But was he unifying?
GERALD HORNE: Well, former U.S. President George W. Bush used to talk at length about the soft bigotry of low expectations. And I think that that phrase is applicable to Donald J. Trump. The fact that he could go before a camera and speak from a teleprompter without baiting the news media, or attacking in slurring terms the Democratic opposition, has won him plaudits. And I think that that shows how little we expect from this President. That speech was very low on details—it was like a campaign speech! He hasn’t entered governing mode now. That speech could have been given on October 2016. It was very disappointing and of course, what he’s running up against is the fact that he has no answers for the pressing problems that the U.S. people face and the pressing problems that U.S. Imperialism faces. And that is the dilemma of Donald J. Trump.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, he said something specifically about education. And, in fact, a few days ago the Education Secretary took a great amount of heat for referring to historically black colleges and universities as a real pioneers when it comes to school choice, and Trump also proposed a marked solutions as a means of addressing education and public schools in predominantly black and Latino communities. Let’s have a look at what he said.
DONALD TRUMP: Education is the civil rights issue of our time. I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an Education Bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magda(?), religious or home school that is right for them.
SHARMINI PERIES: Gerald, put that in context for us. What does he mean by this?
GERALD HORNE: Well, that particular remark by President Trump is indicative of his Administration’s approach. You have a real problem in this country with underfunding of public education — K through 12. But rather than address a meaningful remedy for that pressing problem, he seeks to make the problem worse by defunding public education and diverting our tax dollars to, for example, charter schools.
Indeed, that is the approach suggested by his Secretary of Education, the billionaire heiress, Betty DeVos. And, I dare say that if that particular proposal gains traction, the students of Baltimore will be worse off, the students of Los Angeles will be worse off, and, in fact, United States as a country will be worse off.
SHARMINI PERIES: And why did DeVos, the new Education Secretary get so much heat for that reference?
GERALD HORNE: Well, the fact of the matter is that when historically black colleges and universities were started, such as Morgan State University in Baltimore, Howard University in Washington DC, they were not conceived of as an exemplar of school choice. They were conceived of as Jim Crowe institutions. They were conceived because black students in particular were generally barred from the University of Maryland and College Park, were generally barred from Georgetown University in Washington DC, and therefore, this was the bone that was tossed to the black community.
Now, of course, as we have often done, we have taken that bone and tried to polish it and develop it to the point where Morgan State and Howard, in particular, are world-class institutions. But reframing them as exemplars of school choice is a loony idea at best.
SHARMINI PERIES: Hmm. At one point, Gerald, during the speech Trump talked about 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw, Jr. a 17-year-old black high school student who was killed, as Trump put it, by an illegal immigrant gang member. Let’s go to that clip in particular; let’s have a look.
DONALD TRUMP: Jamiel, 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant, gang member who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw, Jr. was an incredible young man with unlimited potential, who was getting ready to go to college where he would have excelled as a great college quarterback. But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a very good friend of mine.
SHARMINI PERIES: Gerald, what’s Trump trying to do here by linking the issue of public safety in black communities with the undocumented immigrants?
GERALD HORNE: Well, this is demagogy of the rankest and most opportunistic sort. What he’s trying to do is inflame tensions between African-Americans and the population of Latin American origin. What he’s trying to do is disrupt working class unity, disrupt black-brown unity, but I dare say that that particular demagogy will not work. It’s obviously threadbare what he’s trying to do. It’s clear that pointing randomly to supposed crimes, committed by undocumented workers does not obscure the fact that black youth in particular have more to fear from police departments.
And in that context, I should mention that also yesterday Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, said that his Justice Department, the Trump Justice Department would pay less attention to investigating the civil rights violations of police departments. This is giving them free reign in the Baltimores of this country, free reign through which they can ignite further a reign of terror against our community.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Gerald, the budget is being debated, discussed over the last few days. In fact, we’re going to be faced with another proposed budget where President Trump has asked all departments within the US government to demonstrate the cutbacks that they’re going to have to exercise in the coming year.
And, of course, this is very interesting given that yesterday in his speech he talked about increasing the military budget multifold and that isn’t getting cutbacks. And in terms of U.S. Imperialism and its projection of its power across the world, you know, we are at the cusp of another outbreak in terms of asserting U.S. Imperialism across the world under Trump. What will this mean for us?
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s bad news. As you probably know, it has already been suggested that President Trump plans to eliminate altogether entire departments, such as the National Endowment for Humanities, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — they are slated to be zeroed-out altogether. Simultaneously, this $54 billion increase in the Pentagon budget will further mean that the United States spends more on the military than the seven next largest nations’ spending on their militaries combined.
This is not good news for international peace and security. I think that this also suggests we should keep a very close eye on Iran because during his Presidential campaign, Mr. Trump made it clear that he has Iran in the crosshairs. I think that was also the implication of the early visit to the White House by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But I dare say that if Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu go in that direction they’ll probably wind up with their fingers severely burned.
SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah, indeed. This is something we are certainly keeping a very close eye on at The Real News Network. And, I thank you so much today for joining us, Gerald. We always value your opinion here, thank you.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.