When Donald Trump was inaugurated as 45th President of the United States, the Congressional Black Caucus didn’t have much of an official strategic response plan. Nor, for that matter, did any umbrella organization of Black elected officials on the local, state and federal level. Beyond being collectively stunned and some consensus that most of its members would boycott the official POTUS induction ceremony, the CBC had yet to issue a step-by-step map on what, specifically, the Black community could do next.
But at the mark of Trump’s first 100 days in office, a skeptical CBC managed to produce what is, to date, the most authoritative combined list of what’s bad about the new president as far as Black America is concerned.
The CBC rolled out, and branded as #StayWoke, a list of 100 actions by the administration on everything from cabinet-level and judicial appointments to education, environmental justice, health care, workers rights and economic development. The idea, say caucus members, is to present as complete – and alarming – public portrait of an administration acting in complete opposition to issues of crucial significance to Black America.
“During the presidential campaign, President Trump promised to ‘make America great again,’” noted Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) in the 20-page “What Did Trump Do?” – a list of various policy actions the administration has engaged in that are viewed as harming African Americans. “However, all of the actions on this list will not, in our view, make America great.”
For much of Black America, the first 100 days have felt like 100 months: a constant and strangling stream of voting or civil rights roll-backs after another. Indeed, the new Trump administration has not only fulfilled many of its campaign promises, it’s taken the extra step of ensuring that policies put in place by the county’s First Black president are reversed.
No longer can advocacy organizations enjoy an almost open-door relationship with the new Justice Department’s civil rights division. Traditional civil rights organizations, according to observers, can’t even turn to the White House for assistance should a federal agency violate a regulation put in place to address Black concerns or protect Black needs.
All that, in addition to teaming up with Congressional Republicans in an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, landmark legislation that sought to fill in massive healthcare disparity gaps. While the ACA remains in place its future remains uncertain, as does the fate of several key civil rights milestones.
Cabinet-level appointments such as Dr. Ben Carson made matters worse in terms of an already deteriorating relationship between Trump and the Black community. While President Trump viewed Carson’s nomination as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development as a step towards placating Black voters (without bothering to check in with the Black political community), the move was widely lambasted with acrimony given Carson’s complete lack of knowledge of housing issues and a very tense relationship with an African-American community that once adored him. During the first 100 days of the administration, Carson slipped hard when, during a forum with HUD employees, he called African slaves “immigrants.”
President Trump’s own personal outreach to HBCU presidents also tanked, morphing into one of many irreparable slip-ups attributed to racial tone-deafness and a stubborn unwillingness to consult with Black political and community leaders. A fumbled photo-op of Trump grinning at the Oval Office desk in the middle of suited Black HBCU presidents during their collective lobby turned into an iconic meme capturing blonde-haired campaign manager and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway on her knees across a couch with no shoes on.
In the end, HBCU presidents walked away with little more than niceties from the president and vague promises of resources. When the administration unveiled its FY 2018 budget proposal, funding for HBCUs remained flat along with recommendations to dramatically scale back Pell Grants, a critical funding source for Black students.
The confirmation of conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch, now positioned in the Supreme Court for a lifetime, didn’t help either. Advocacy groups are bracing for an onslaught of reversals of long held civil rights protections.
“President Trump has done little to allay the concerns which prompted 93 percent of Blacks to vote for someone else,” said Emory University professor Andra Gillespie. “While he has made some symbolic gestures towards Blacks during those first 100 days, those have been awkward and [display] his unfamiliarity with Black communities. It is clear that the Trump administration is different from the Obama administration and that Blacks will feel the difference in a substantive way.”
Meanwhile, the administration has yet to pass any major legislation, is dangerously behind in staffing government, is watching – with indifference – a slowly mushrooming scandal around ties to Russia, and there is, critics say, very little discernible foreign policy beyond occasional bluster and bombing runs.
On the surface, the new administration seems eager to antagonize an embattled Black political and grassroots community that seems completely powerless in the wake of 2016 electoral outcomes. Each day is met with either fresh news about the latest Obama-era regulation dismantled by the Trump administration or new rounds of accusations from the White House pointing fingers at the former president for either authorizing surveillance on Trump the candidate or approving former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s top security clearance.
That’s more symbolic, say some observers, compared to the systematic unraveling of an extensive array of regulatory, policy, and legal protections that have offered African Americans some semblance of progress over the past 50 years. Compounding that is an aggressive administration effort to radically downscale the federal government with an across-the-board 10 percent cut across federal agencies, with most domestic and social safety net programs on the chopping block and federal workers (a quarter of them Black) targeted.
“From the Attorney General’s failure to continue pursuing voting infringement cases and attempting to halt Obama police decrees, the overturning of Obama regulations on student loans, climate change, and environmental justice, just to name a few, the first 100 days have had a very negative impact on African Americans,” said former Obama White House appointee Peter Groff.
“At this rate, even without any legislative activity, Black people will be staring at a federal government that is as hostile as any we’ve seen in nearly 30 years,” he said.