Transitions in America: From 44th to 45th
By John Thomas III, Editor
President Barack Obama’s delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago, Illinois on Tuesday, January 10, 2017. I was blessed to be present at this momentous occasion, the 2008 Victory Celebration in Grant Park and the 2012 Reelection Rally in McCormick Place. As I sat with the Connectional Social Action Director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, the same feeling of excitement reverberated in the arena amongst a cross-section of college students, working class citizens from the South Side of Chicago, Obama for America alumni, political powerbrokers, donors and celebrities. This event was a time of reflection on the previous eight years of the Obama Administration.
This was Obama’s America. We overheard several discussions by young adults about running for office or going back to law school. President Obama energized a generation of Americans in a way that has not been seen since John F. Kennedy. Yet, it was a bittersweet celebration as President Obama’s legacy and policies have been placed in the hands of a “reality star” businessman who until last year was the mouthpiece denying Obama’s birthright citizenship.
There was a deafening cheer when the President took the stage. In 2008, every time they did a sound check the crowd erupted because they thought Obama would come to the stage. As President Obama spoke in his emotional speech on his record and exhorted his supporters to continue to believe in America, it was tough to fathom that in less than ten days the occupant behind that Presidential seal would be someone else.
Over the next few days, however, we were treated to several episodes that demonstrated the stark contrast between the 44th and 45th Presidents. First, the President-Elect met with entertainer Steve Harvey to discuss urban renewal projects and golf. Then, he lambasted Civil Rights icon and Congressional Representative John Lewis after Lewis declared he would not go to the Presidential Inauguration because he did not view Trump’s election as legitimate. Finally, on the King Day holiday, Trump met with Martin Luther King III in the wake of the negative backlash of his comments to Lewis.
A shockwave continues to roll through the African-American community as we grapple with what to do with President-Elect Trump. The Congressional Black Caucus was founded on the following principle: “Black People have no permanent friends or enemies…only permanent interests.” Dialoguing with politicians and policymakers with dissimilar views to meet a common ground is essential to accomplishing goals. So, do we engage or boycott?
The bitter, divisive and hateful tone of the 2016 Presidential campaign still rings clearly in the ears of African-Americans. President-Elect Trump appealed to the basest fears and prejudices of White Americans. Trump has demonstrated a clear ignorance and misunderstanding of the complex issues that face the Black community in the United States. His overtures to Black America are based in the very showmanship that has marked his business ventures and helped him to become elected. Meeting with Steve Harvey and Martin Luther King III are high-profile gestures, but lack substance. While the salience of Representative Lewis’s comment may be debated, President-Elect Trump’s insult of him was unwarranted and it speaks volumes. Instead of reaching out to the Representative, Trump’s handlers thought a chat with MLK III could diffuse the issue.
As long as President-Elect Trump continues to ignore legitimate leaders in the African-American community, there will be no opportunity to move past differences and discuss our issues. For now, President-Elect Trump’s “National Diversity Coalition” is more concerned with tokenistic platitudes than meaningfully helping the President-Elect to be the President of all Americans and address the fears of millions of Americans—and millions more across the globe—in the wake of his inauguration. For any rapprochement to take place, Trump must make the first step—an action that looks increasingly less likely.
Editor’s note: This editorial was written prior to January 20th, hence the references to Donald Trump as the President-Elect