How to Explain Why Blacks Back Trump. It’s Not Easy

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A Donald Trump supporter outside the Rainbow PUSH coalition, where Bernie Sanders spoke with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, in Chicago on March 12. The author writes, "As the Trump event at the University of Chicago descended into chaos, I was stunned by how the most violent incidents were between black Trump supporters and other African-Americans." Shannon Stapleton/reuters

This article first appeared in The Washington Spectator.

Donald Trump’s political ascendance has been a nightmare for the Republican Party but a gift for journalists, political analysts and opinion writers.

“Trumpmania” has been dissected in many ways. Hundreds if not thousands of “think pieces” and other types of work have been published on the violence at Trump rallies; his political performance art; his bullying, proto-fascist inclinations; his casual misogyny; his professional wrestling con man persona and his compelling allure for white, working-class authoritarians. Trump has also been the focus of premature essays announcing the death of the Republican Party.

Notable by virtue of its absence is a discussion of the role played by black conservatives in Trump’s insurgent campaign.

I attended Trump’s “No-Show” rally in Chicago. As the event descended into chaos and Trump’s supporters left feeling dejected and humiliated, I was stunned by how the most violent interactions I witnessed were between black Trump supporters and other African-Americans.

White Trumpeteers turned their thuggish rage against the protesters, many black Trumpeteers turned their fists against their political enemies, or threatened to do so.

I watched an African-American military veteran arguing with two high-school-aged Black Lives Matter protesters. Their voices rose to a crescendo when the black Trump supporter took off his jacket and threatened to “beat some manners” and “respect” into the two kids. The high school students ran off. They would not have fared well in a fight with an angry and imposing former Marine.

The veteran told me that the Black Lives Matter kids were “disrespectful” to him. He said the protesters were out of control and violating Trump’s and his supporters’ “First Amendment rights.”

He recited standard right-wing talking points about how Democrats had ruined America’s cities; about black people complaining about police brutality so they can sue someone; about “disrespectful” young people and the weakness of the United States military under Obama; the greatness of Trump; and how we should all just be “Americans” and not talk about race or racism.

It was 1960s “hippie punching” mixed with Fox News disinformation and Trump propaganda.

This was a man more than ready for his five minutes of fame. He offered me, and everyone watching, political street theater that illustrated the role played by black conservatives in the age of Fox News and the right-wing news-entertainment disinformation complex: Black conservatives become the professional “best black friends” of the Republican Party.

From the post-civil-rights-moment to the present, the party has fused racism and conservatism in order to mobilize white, racially resentful voters. The Southern Strategy, overt racism, “dog whistles,” “birtherism” and now open and extreme hostility to Muslims and Hispanics are part of the modern Republican Party’s brand. As such, the party has become the United States’s largest white-identity organization.

In balancing appeals to white racism as a campaign and electoral strategy and the need to conform—even marginally—to the post-civil-rights-era consensus on the evils of racism, the Republican Party deploys its black conservatives as a type of human chaff and deflector shield.

For many Republicans, the presence of a black (or brown) face is proof that the party and its policies cannot possibly be racist. Black conservatives also give credence to the lie and fantasy that today’s Republican Party—the party of Lincoln and civil rights, as opposed to the Southern Strategy, Willie Horton, birtherism and voter suppression—is “inclusive.”

So if Donald Trump is a racist and nativist, is the preferred candidate of white supremacists such as former KKK leader David Duke, and is considered too extreme by elites even in a party that has cultivated racism and nativism among its base, you can see how black conservatives become essential to Trump’s campaign. They provide him plausible deniability and cover.

Ben Carson, 2016’s newest “best black friend,” has endorsed Trump. Katrina Pierson is Trump’s spokeswoman. She is trotted out on the cable news to excuse-make for his violence, racism and other bad behavior.

Mark Burns, a black pastor, gave the opening speech at a Trump rally in North Carolina. He later appeared on CNN and descended into Christian nationalism bromides about Bernie Sanders needing to “find Jesus Christ” and be “saved.” Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson were recently featured at one of Trumps rallies and can be found on YouTube and other social outlets, doing routines that explain him to black Americans.

Fetishized and highly prized by the right-wing media and white conservatives, all of them are black political unicorns.

Black supporters used as the vanguard for violence against protesters at Trump rallies were not limited to the canceled March 11 rally in Chicago. As reported by Raw Story, a black Trump supporter viciously assaulted a black protester the following day in St. Louis.

The man who became famous when his bloodied face gained national media attention outside a Donald Trump rally is speaking out — and he says he was sucker-punched by a Trump supporter.

Anthony Cage , 50, a well-known local Ferguson activist and coordinator for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis’ Save Our Sons program, told the St. Louis American that the suspect tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around, he was sucker-punched in the face.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Shawn Morehead, the man suspected of attacking him. Morehead is a black Trump supporter, according to the American.

Cage was seen being led to an ambulance by St. Louis police, who initially believed he was the suspect. They then released him from custody after witnesses told them he was in fact the victim.

Cage says he plans to press charges — and has some choice words for the GOP front runner.

“Trumpism must be stopped in its tracks,” Cage told the paper. “It’s 2016, not 1916. We just elected our first black president. How can we elect Trump, a man who preaches hatred?”

Precision and clarity are important here.

There are different types of black conservatives, as well as multiple reasons why a black American would choose to align his or her interests with the Republican Party.

Older African-Americans may still hold on to the memory of an earlier party synonymous with ending the Southern regime of chattel slavery and anti-black terrorism. Some African-Americans believe that being a Republican is a smart strategic choice that gives leverage against the Democratic Party taking the “black vote” for granted. Other black folks may be single-issue voters who find the Republican Party’s position on abortion or guns compelling.

Sadly, there are black conservatives who fly the banner of the Republican Party because they have internalized white racism and want to be “special” by virtue of being one of the few people of color accepted by a political organization that is hostile to nonwhites.

And there are remunerative possibilities for black conservatives who benefit from a racial spoils system within the Republican Party and the broader right-wing movement that can provide high-profile positions and media attention.

Black conservatives in the Fox News era are often racial opportunists and mercenaries. Betraying the collective interests of black Americans and other people of color can be highly lucrative work.

After listening to the black Trump supporter at the failed rally in Chicago, I found myself thinking about the American hero and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson. Robinson was an “old guard” traditional Republican. He was a special delegate at the 1964 Republican convention during an earlier moment of political tumult and extremist politics on the American right.

Robinson would later write about the conflict between the radical Goldwater faction and the centrist and social progressive Rockefeller wing of the party.

I wasn’t altogether caught off guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican Party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition.

I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.

A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.

The same high-handed methods had been there.

The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here. Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America. The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.

I will never forget the fantastic scene of Governor Rockefeller’s ordeal as he endured what must have been three minutes of hysterical abuse and booing which interrupted his fighting statement which the convention managers had managed to delay until the wee hours of the morning.

Since the telecast was coming from the West Coast, that meant that many people in other sections of the country, because of the time differential, would be in their beds. I don’t think he has ever stood taller than that night when he refused to be silenced until he had had his say.

It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present. Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers.”

They had no real standing in the convention, no clout. They were unimportant and ignored.

One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it. Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting, “C’mon Rocky,” as the governor stood his ground. He started up in his seat as if to come after me. His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.

I was ready for him. I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife.....

Too late, Robinson realized there was no place for him in the GOP. His words were prescient.

They could describe today’s Republican Party and its exploitation of black conservatives who try to find a home there. His “frightening experience” in San Francisco foreshadows the inevitable chaos at the party’s convention this summer in Cleveland.

Chauncey DeVega is an essayist, cultural critic and host of The Chauncey DeVega Show podcast.