President Poised to Lead Charge Against Racism by John Zogby
President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to insult and enrage leading African Americans, notably NBA star LeBron James and CNN’s Don Lemon. This has to stop and I believe he has a unique opportunity to set in motion a game changer on American attitudes on race.
It is way past due for the president to tackle the ugly racism that still poisons many otherwise good people in the nation. In fact, the time is ripe for a major nationwide address by this president. Trump has already shown that he knows how to win at almost everything he sets out to do. He has defined himself as an iconic brand worldwide, had a very successful prime-time television show, and now dominates politics in the United States.
But his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his disturbing remarks about alt-right leaders and white nationalists have enabled such folks to enter the mainstream of media coverage and the national debate.
Racism in the public square has been an unfortunate part of our tradition. A former president, Millard Fillmore, actually ran on a national ticket in 1856 on the American (or Know Nothing Line) promising to curtail Irish Catholic immigration and to support slavery in the US territories. Democratic Party candidates actually supported segregation and refused to speak out against lynching from the 1890s to the 1940s – including Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself.
On the flip side, there were moments of courage in presidential politics. Despite his military rationale, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation encouraged African Americans throughout the South to lay down their tools and fight for a higher cause. It caused a general strike and led directly to three amendments to the Constitution that furthered protection for former slaves in the eyes of the law.
Harry S Truman desegregated the U.S. armed forces, Lyndon Johnson called up the spirit of his murdered predecessor to rally support for a long overdue Civil Rights and Voting Rights initiative, and Barack Obama addressed the issue head-on both during his historic presidential campaign and in his electrifying rendition of Amazing Grace at the funeral of Charleston church attendees murdered during a service. And kudos must go to both Warren Harding who at least spoke out against lynching following his truly racist predecessor Woodrow Wilson – as well as to Bill Clinton who called for a national dialogue on race and racism.
But things are out of hand today. Neo-Nazis are holding rallies in cities across the country, overt racism is on the radio airwaves and all over social media, and the president is actually a combatant against many of our artists and athletes who are persons of color.
It is time for Trump to lead in ending this cycle. And he has an opening in which to do it. Polls are now showing that he is actually making some headway with nonwhites because of the economy and some shared conservative values.
A statement from him and the announcement of a new initiative to combat racism and divisiveness would have a number of significant impacts. First, it could increase his support among nonwhites a little. If not that, at least it could dampen Democratic turnout as more conservative and independent-leaning African American and Latino voters at least give pause to voting in November.
Second, it could establish Trump as one who is willing to lead his base forward instead of merely following the foulest instincts of his most radical supporters. Would he risk alienating the most racist elements of his base? Isn’t this the guy who famously said he could shoot someone in mid-town Manhattan and not lose any of his support?
Third, it would be historic – like President Richard Nixon going to China. No one was going to charge the ardent anti-communist Nixon of being soft on “Red China”. And no conservatives who support Trump would ever suggest that Trump is soft on anything.
My Fellow Americans. As several of my predecessors before me, I was elected by a seriously divided nation. But I am not comfortable with the divisiveness and hate that I see all around me. If we truly want to make America great again, we must heal the wounds that exist within our national community. But I don’t want to heal the wounds only among one isolated group. I see hurt and pain all around us – in the cities, suburbs and rural areas; among whites and Americans of color; among people from all walks of life. I want to launch an era of mutual respect. I want to begin by dialing down the rhetoric on all sides. I will personally abide by this by tamping down my own tweets. I want to invite some the greatest stars of Hollywood and sports to the White House to collect ideas on how we move forward. I want to immediately convene representatives of law enforcement and church and community groups to sit with me and members of my administration to tell me how we can appreciate each other and learn from each other—and to assist in bridging initiative in local communities that are actually working. And I want my wife Melania and my daughter Ivanka to meet with both women and men to offer my commitment that we will usher in a new era of respect.
I keep remembering that Nixon went to China. Will this happen? I don’t know. But let’s just say that I have a dream.
John Zogby (@TheJohnZogby) is the founder of the Zogby Poll and Zogby companies, including John Zogby Strategies, and author of We Are Many We Are One: Neo-Tribes and Tribal Analytics in the 21st Century America