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Just what the Congressional Black Caucus should say to Trump

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

At his recent combative press conference, Trump raised eyebrows and hackles with his answer to a black reporter who demanded to know when he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. Trump abruptly tossed it back to her and cavalierly asked if she could arrange it. It was a galling presumption and a variation on the old racist crack, “Well they’re black so they must all know each other.” It was even more galling to presume that a Capitol Hill beat reporter could simply pick up the phone and arrange a meeting with a group of congressional leaders. But that was Trump. And notwithstanding him being who he is, almost certainly he will eventually meet with the Caucus.

The question is what will he say to them and more importantly what will the Caucus say to him? A few days after the election, last November, Trump scribbled a few policy points on paper dealing with what purports to be a “black agenda.” It was mostly a warmed over, conservative mish mash of talk about combatting urban crime, boosting business, stopping illegal immigration, cutting taxes, and expanding charter schools and vouchers. Nearly every one of his policy points are anathema to most CBC members. Their opposition is based on much more than just the deep racial polarization Trump has done more than any presidential candidate in living memory to fan. It’s also about party loyalty and two wildly divergent political world views.

The Congressional Black Caucus’s loyalty to the Democratic Party has been unshakeable for four decades. It has backed and often taken the lead in the fight for every piece of substantive legislation on education, health, employment, and even foreign policy that has had major impact on the nation’s well-being. The Caucus has refused to be bullied, badgered, and steam-rolled by the GOP. It has prodded, cajoled, exhorted, and rallied black voters to keep the faith with the Democratic Party, despite the monumental sense of apathy, alienation and even hostility from many black voters that the Democrats have been weak, tepid, and at times non-existent when it comes to fighting for Black interests. In the Trump era, the CBC will be more than just ornamental window dressing. Democrats will need the CBC to play a key role in holding the line in Congress against Trump and the GOP’s assault on Obamacare, voting rights protections, and job and education program funding. Democrats will also need the Caucus to play an even more aggressive role in revving up the party’s African-American base for the 2018 mid-term election and to gain or at least not lose any more Democratic congressional seats.

This means next to nothing to Trump. But what does mean something is what, if any, political advantage he can get out of trying to neutralize the Caucus and making at least some of its members less pugnacious in hammering him. The two points that even remotely offer any semblance of a negotiating chip between him and the Caucus would be on jobs and how to create more of them in inner city neighborhoods and his bold declaration that he believes in and wants to promote equal justice under the law. The Caucus will have to revamp an argument that it repeatedly used with former President Obama and that that’s to do more, spend more, and create more job and skills training programs that target the one group that has chronically suffered more than any other group from poverty and unemployment, and that’s young African-American males.

The Caucus can tie that directly into poverty and pariah status of young black males in America’s economy. This has fueled the very crime and violence that Trump rails against in Chicago and other inner city areas. They’ll have to tell him that his saber rattle threat to send the feds into Chicago to quash the murder violence there won’t do anything to solve the problem as long as young black males are jobless, rootless, alienated, and embittered, and see gangs, guns, drugs, and murder as the only outlet for that anger and frustration.

The Caucus could also demand that Trump do something that he absolutely refused to do during the campaign. And that’s to go to an impoverished big city black neighborhood and listen to what the residents have to say about crime, police abuse, and joblessness. And do it in the company not of his handpicked blacks, but members of the Caucus. Sound farfetched, of course, but it really shouldn’t for a president who did publicly say that he wants to be president of all the people. The Caucus can remind him of this and demand that he act like the president he claims he wants to be. He can start by meeting with the Caucus and listening to what it has to say.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.