Donald Trump and Byron Donalds racial stunts are for white racists, not "outreach" to Black voters

Trump's alliances with rappers and Donalds praising Jim Crow are about validating MAGA's racist stereotypes

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 10, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds shakes hands with of Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Moms for Liberty Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2023. (Hannah Beier for the Washington Post)
U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds shakes hands with of Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Moms for Liberty Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2023. (Hannah Beier for the Washington Post)

Because we keep hearing so much about how convicted felon Donald Trump is doing "outreach" to Black voters, much of the press assumed that was what was going on with a recent Bronx rally where Trump made a big deal of appearing with a few D-list rappers who are facing criminal charges of their own. "Courting Black Voters, Trump Turns to Rappers Accused in Gang Murder Plot," declared the headline at the New York Times, which characterized the event as "clumsy" while taking Trump's purported overtures to Black voters at face value. Most outlets did, even though the rally itself was rather small

This follows Trump and his media allies repeatedly claiming that his 2023 mug shot, from his arrest in Georgia on charges related to his attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election, would endear him to Black voters. "That’s why the Black people like me," Trump said of his mug shot," because they see what’s happening to me happens to them." Fact check: While there are a couple of Black defendants who were in the conspiracy, the vast majority of people charged with crimes related to the coup or the January 6 insurrection are white.

Trump's invocation of "the Black people" should be your first clue, but despite all the "outreach" chatter, such stunts and rhetorical gambits are not really meant to appeal to Black voters themselves. Sure, Trump would like to grab a few people of color caught up in these theatrics, but that's not the intended audience for this. The actual target was neatly illustrated last week when dopey white bro icon, Joe Rogan, gloated on his disturbingly popular podcast, "So many rappers are showing support for Trump now. It’s crazy. Cause now he’s got a felony." Fellow pasty white "comedian" Tony Hinchcliffe, in a cloud of marijuana smoke, replied on behalf of the Black community with, "I don’t think they were counting on the black voter" supposedly relating to Trump being convicted for leading an election interference conspiracy. 

In reality, polls show the opposite:  20% of Black voters who previously said they were backing Trump say they are now switching to Biden. 

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What Trump's doing is not outreach to Black voters. It's old-fashioned racist trolling, meant to appeal primarily to white right-wingers by validating their stereotypes. As a side benefit to MAGA jerks, it puts many Black pundits and politicians in the uncomfortable position of being asked repeatedly to respond to these provocations. As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote, "I guess hearing African Americans stereotyped as ignorant, gullible and criminally inclined doesn’t bother some folks." I'm glad he's here to state it so plainly, but it's frustrating that he has to step up to call out what should be obvious. 

This is also the context in which Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., decided to audition to be Trump's running mate by arguing Black people were doing better under Jim Crow. At what was ostensibly a Republican outreach event to Black voters in Philadelphia, Donalds said, "You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together," and also that "more Black people voted conservatively." Notably, the statement overlooked how Jim Crow laws banned most Black people from voting in the South. He said things have gone downhill since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act that ended Jim Crow. 

His remarks drew sharp rebuke from Democrats, like Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who said, "We were not better off when people could be systematically lynched without consequence." Donalds unsurprisingly doubled down however, insisting it's not pro-segregation to say "the marriage rates were better in the — higher, higher, I want to be clear — higher in the Jim Crow era." 

But this is a disingenuous argument. Marriage rates have nothing to do with voting rights and desegregation. By saying otherwise, Donalds is plugging into a long history of white supremacist claims that Black people aren't responsible enough to handle freedom. (For what it's worth, marriage rates are down for people of all races from a high in the 1950s.) But he's also trying to start big, public fights with prominent Black politicians and pundits, in order to get praise from Trump and other MAGA types. That's why he appeared not just on the liberal network MSNBC, but specifically on Joy Reid's show. Being seen condescendingly explaining Jim Crow to a Black woman is how to win over the worst white people. 

Donalds is also Black, which is key to this trolling strategy. Writing about that aspect for the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow pointed out that many of the rappers Trump has recruited to praise him publicly aren't really aligned with Trump for ideological reasons. Instead, the relationships are "transactional," he writes. Lil Wayne, for instance, was willing to praise Trump and pose for a picture with him in 2020, but tellingly only right before Trump pardoned Wayne on a federal gun charge. That "certainly looked a lot like a quid pro quo," Blow wrote. Snoop Dogg used to criticize Trump, but after Trump commuted a federal sentence for a long-time friend and colleague of the rapper's, Snoop offered Trump a public compliment. 

As Blow noted, giving out a handful of pardons to rich celebrities and music industry executives does "nothing to alter the predation of the system" of justice that disproportionately targets people of color, often imposing harsh prison sentences for low-level crimes that wouldn't even rate an investigation for a white transgressor. Nor is it justice to the people who get these favors because, as Blow points out, the acts are "not so much bestowed as traded for loyalty, creating unwritten indentureship for the recipients."

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The main audience for that is white racists. They like seeing Trump condescend to Black celebrities, particularly those they may resent for having more talent and success than they do. They like Trump reinforcing racist stereotypes. They especially enjoy using these gestures to troll progressives with bad faith arguments about how Trump is some magnanimous savior figure, instead of what he is: a lifelong racist who repeatedly argues for an even harsher justice system. 

The bad news is that Trump and his allies have no shame and know no limits, and so will keep up these race-baiting antics. The good news is that white liberals like myself can do more to blunt the power of this racist trolling, instead of just leaving it up to Black pundits and politicians to do all the work. The first step is recognizing this behavior as trolling. That creates an avenue to call it out, without having deal with conversations about race that can sometimes feel fraught for people who may not feel they have the knowledge or experience to speak in great depth or nuance. No need to be armed with books of statistics or a doctorate in sociology. Just go meta: Point out that Trump is doing Racist Theater for the benefit of bigoted white people, and that it's gross. Sometimes the most effective pushback is the simplest. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Black Voters Byron Donalds Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Maga