The year leading up to his inauguration in 2017, as the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump espoused senseless, baseless and ultimately empty assertions about the state of Black Americans and our communities.
“What the hell do you have to lose?” he screamed in front of a predominantly White crowd in a small, predominantly White suburb of Lansing, Michigan.
After Trump was inaugurated, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) found it prudent to answer his question. In March, the CBC Executive Committee, led by our Chairman Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), presented Trump with a 130-page policy document entitled, “We Have A Lot To Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century.”
The document, which was compiled by the entire 49-member Caucus, outlined policy solutions down to the bill text for issues facing our communities. Voting rights, criminal justice reform, economic justice, education, health care, immigration – these were just some of the topics we presented to continue our progress.
Unfortunately, these are the issues that Trump and his administration have chosen to ignore. The President, who has not commented on the document since we presented it to him, obviously has had other ideas, almost as if he wanted to answer his own question in his first year, to show us what we can lose.
The truth is that in this first year, we’ve lost a lot.
Almost immediately after being elected, Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and appointed a known vote suppressor to lead it. The commission was designed to intimidate voters and Trump – because of political and legal pressure – recently decided to dissolve it into the Department of Homeland Security.
Throughout the past year, Trump has stacked the federal courts with judges with nothing short of scandalous records when it comes to voting rights. Among his nominee group was Thomas Farr, who helped lawmakers draft and defend a 2013 law that the Fourth Circuit Court of North Carolina ruled targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”
On the criminal justice front, Trump has used the Department of Justice to embrace mass incarceration and shy away from transparent policing. One example of this is an FBI report published last August entitled, “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers.” One problem with the report is that the term “Black Identity Extremists” is an invented group that does not exist. There are no Black people organized to kill law enforcement officers. When I asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray about the origins of this report, none of them could tell me what the report was even based on or how the term was created.
Economically, Trump has gone after our consumer protections. Congress is working to repeal Dodd-Frank, a landmark piece of legislation designed to protect consumers from the wreck of the 2009 recession. Trump’s favoring of big banks will ultimately leave consumers in the same spot they were during the recession, or worse.
The education of our children is also under attack. In 2014, for the first time ever, the majority of public school students in the United States were non-White. Secretary DeVos has been less than helpful to these institutions, ignoring grave disparities in how students of color are disciplined compared to White students, and supporting a budget that would further attack services that public schools provide.
Trump has also gone after our healthcare by actively sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, continually issuing statements citing death spirals and other doomsday prophesies in addition to cutting funding for advertisements and allowing health insurance companies to sell short-term plans with inadequate coverage. Trump and other Republican leaders have already openly discussed cuts to the social safety net, meaning Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as justification for their deficit-exploding tax plan.
Trump has spent a considerable amount of time attacking Black immigrants and their countries with both his racist words and policies. In addition to referring to Haiti and African countries as “shitholes,” he’s attacked recipients of the Diversity Visa Program, rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and scheduled the elimination of Temporary Protective Status for many countries like Haiti and El Salvador.
The entire reason we have this program is to help protect immigrants from ills in their home country, which can range from famine to civil war. To deport hundreds of thousands after opening our borders to them is unconscionable. When we look at the issue holistically and see that tens of thousands of DACA enrollees are Black and that the plurality of diversity visa recipients are also Black, it contextualizes the president’s assault on these programs.
Unfortunately, these assaults on our criminal justice system, our consumer protections, our education and our health, will continue through 2018.
What Trump’s first year showed is that hard-earned progress will never be safe so long as his bigotry, hatred and racism hold power. But what we showed this year in Alabama and Virginia, to not just our community, but to our country and the rest of the world, is that even in the face of opposition, our activism will continue and will prevail. We must be organized and we will be organized. This year, Trump has answered his own question about what Black Americans have to lose. But it’s an answer we don’t plan to accept.
Congresswoman Karen Bass represents California’s 37th Congressional District. She is the 2nd Vice Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and she co-chairs the CBC’s Africa Taskforce. She is also Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Africa.