Washington – U.S. President Donald Trump is resisting a new rush to address police brutality and tear down Confederate symbols even as polls show most Americans believe changes are needed and many corporations — even NASCAR, with its conservative fan base — embrace a more proactive stance on issues of racial justice.
On the same day that Trump vowed he would never remove the names of Confederate generals from 10 American military bases that honor them, the auto racing league announced the Confederate battle flag was no longer welcome at its events.
Even Trump’s Senate Republican allies are ahead of the president, with some supporting an amendment to an annual defense bill that could lead to the renaming of the bases. The House Republican leader and Trump ally, Kevin McCarthy, said he would support the effort.
Trump has resurrected his criticism of black professional football players who knelt during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, even as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the league had been wrong to discourage the demonstrations.
Trump has said he’s open to an executive order on police reform, but at an appearance in Dallas on Thursday, he placed more emphasis on solving problems of police violence toward African Americans by increasing employment and educational opportunities.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are drafting legislation on policing reforms, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she hopes the two parties can address the issue with bipartisan legislation, as her chamber prepares a bill as well.
With Trump’s responses to the nationwide protests over police brutality diverging increasingly from even some Republicans, Trump is charting the kind of course he plotted for his surprise 2016 win — an appeal to white voters in swing states who have said they feel increasingly marginalized by the Democratic Party.
This is putting Republican politicians — who on other issues have fallen in lockstep with Trump — in a tough spot. They need to choose whether to stick with him heading into the general election, or reflect the converging views of Americans and U.S. corporations. And it carries significant risk for Trump, with voters telling pollsters that they support changes to the way race is addressed in the U.S.
Polls show the country moving away from Trump’s positions.
According to a Pew Research Center study released Friday, 60 percent of Americans believe the president has delivered the wrong message in response to protests sparked by the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody last month. The Black Lives Matter movement is supported by majorities of Americans, regardless of their ethnicity, including 60 percent of whites. Almost half of Americans said Trump had made race relations worse in the U.S.
On June 2, Monmouth University reported that 57 percent of Americans believe police are more likely to use excessive force against black suspects than white — including 49 percent of white Americans. That is nearly double the percentage of whites who held that view just four years ago, according to the pollsters.
Trump has repeatedly declared himself a “law and order” president while criticizing Democratic municipal leaders for their patience with protesters. “The terrorists burn and pillage our cities, and they think it is just wonderful, even the death,” he said on Friday in a tweet about a so-called autonomous zone that protesters have established in Seattle.
In choosing to hold his first rally since the virus lockdowns in Oklahoma, Trump is going to comfortable territory — a reliably Republican state that Democrats aren’t seriously contesting. But the choice of the date and the city have riled both historians and African Americans for what they see as insensitivity to racial issues.
The rally is scheduled for June 19, the holiday known as Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers read the Emancipation Proclamation to slaves in Texas, freeing them — two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the document. And Tulsa was the site of one of the deadliest white-on-black racial riots almost exactly 99 years ago, when a white mob looted and burned a black business district known as Greenwood, an attack sparked after a black man rode an elevator with a white woman.
Trump said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday that his campaign didn’t intentionally choose Juneteenth as the date for the rally.
Paris Dennard, senior communications adviser for black media affairs at the Republican National Committee, said he had discussed the June 1, 1921, Greenwood massacre with Trump at a White House meeting last week. Trump told him he had recently read about the incident.
Dennard said that he raised Tulsa with the president as an example of economic destruction and how long it could take black communities to recover from riots and looting.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, said in a tweet on Thursday that “as the party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of what Juneteenth represents and the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Trump, he said, “has a solid record of success for black Americans,” while his presumptive re-election opponent, Joe Biden, “has the horrible record of racial division and condescension.”
Dennard defended Trump’s record on race, noting that he opened his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida to blacks and Jews at a time when competitors would not admit them. He also said that Trump has made one of the most robust efforts by a Republican presidential candidate to win votes from black voters.
Trump’s presidency has been marked by dissonance between policy and rhetoric. The day after declaring he’d never rename military bases honoring Confederates, Trump held a roundtable with religious leaders, business owners and law enforcement officials in Dallas. He touted his program to support economic development in low-income communities as a benefit to black Americans.
“At the heart of this effort is increasing access to capital for small businesses, and that’s with minority owners in black communities,” Trump said.
During his presidency, he has signed legislation reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and increasing funding for historically black colleges and universities. Black unemployment fell to a record low under Trump before the coronavirus outbreak collapsed the economy.
“I say this often,” said Melik Abdul, a black Trump supporter and Republican strategist. “The biggest problem Donald Trump has is not policy-related, but how he chooses to message.”
But while companies and other U.S. institutions scramble to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement that has led the protests over Floyd’s death, Trump has remarked on the “beautiful image” of police rushing demonstraters.
Trump and his top aides have rejected any suggestion that police are systematically racist or that dramatic reforms are required. The president has blamed “bad apples” for Floyd’s death.