At his first public event since being diagnosed with Covid-19, President Donald Trump spoke to hundreds of supporters on the South Lawn of the White House, giving a speech meant to honor law enforcement officials at a time when Black Lives Matter activists are calling to defund the police.
The crowd was primarily made up of Black and brown people invited by Blexit, an organization that seeks to move Black voters away from the Democratic Party, and Trump used their presence to both salute their politics and attack his Democratic rivals.
“Every day more Black and Latino Americans are leaving behind left wing politicians and their failed ideology,” the president said during his address. “And they’re embracing our pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-police — we want law and order, we have to have law and order — and pro-American agenda.”
While this isn’t exactly true, Trump does enjoy some support among Black and brown voters — particularly among men.
A recent analysis from FiveThirtyEight found that Black and Hispanic voters who backed Trump in 2016 are largely still with him, despite the poor ratings the president has received for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump won just 8 percent of African American voters in 2016, and appears to have about 10 percent support in the weeks leading up to the election. Despite this modest gain, the president remains deeply unpopular with the group, making his appeal to them “a game of inches,” as the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni have written — and making his ability to win new Black voters in key races unclear.
Nevertheless, Blexit cofounders Candace Owens and Brandon Tatum are adamant Black Americans want to leave what Owens has characterized as “the Democrat plantation.”
Overall, the Blexit movement presents itself as wanting to “change the narrative that surrounds America’s minority communities” by advocating for school choice, criminal justice reform, and entrepreneurship, among other goals. And these themes were on display not just at the Trump event, but at the Blexit rally that proceeded it.
Held near the White House on the National Mall, the rally featured speeches from Owens, Tatum, and Black conservative talk radio host Larry Elder about how oppression isn’t real, how Black people must take accountability for their actions, and how police officers are allies.
“Today is about making sure that we make some noise to support our police officers in America,” Owens said. “When you remove police officers the thugs stand up.”
Following these remarks, the crowd moved to the White House. They were required to wear Blexit apparel — bright blue tops that said “We the Free” on the front and “Blexit backs the Blue” on the back — and to have masks, but reportedly were not required to wear them.
There, Trump delivered a campaign-style speech that honored police and that contained his pitch to Black and brown voters.
“We call this a peaceful protest at the White House in support of the incredible men and women of law enforcement,” Trump said, later adding, “It’s a dangerous profession and they’ve been doing an incredible job.”
Trump also took an opportunity to characterize Black Lives Matter protests as violent, focusing on looting, which a study from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project found took place at fewer than 10 percent of demonstrations. “The homes and churches and businesses of Black and Hispanic Americans have been looted. … They’ve been vandalized and burned by left wing fanatics,” Trump said.
Black and Brown people have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus. The event likely posed a serious threat to the health of attendees.
Though Trump expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the Black and brown supporters standing below him on the lawn, that he hosted the event at all, suggests he has little concern for their well-being.
From the onset, Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities. Analysis by the nonpartisan study group APM Research Lab shows that 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have already died from Covid-19. According to the CDC, the coronavirus death toll is twice as high for Hispanic, Black, and Native American adults under age 65 as for whites — and children of color make up 75 percent of coronavirus deaths of people under 21.
Any crowd risks spreading the coronavirus. But a crowd like the one at the White House — made up of Black and brown people, some of whom had traveled to participate, with intermittent mask usage — risks further spreading Covid-19 among the population it has hit the hardest, and the population it is most likely to kill.
Yet on Saturday, Owens claimed that “Black Americans, Latino Americans, minority Americans are dying because the media is lying,” and did not acknowledge the coronavirus as onlookers stood shoulder-to-shoulder wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, some of them without masks.
Similarly, Trump also ignored the impact of the coronavirus on the people standing before him, saying, “Our nation’s going to defeat this terrible China virus as we call it … through the power of the American spirit, I think, more than anything else. Science, medicine will eradicate the China virus once and for all.”
Despite Trump’s optimism and faith in the “American spirit,” experts warn that because of Trump’s inaction and with states rolling back restrictions, a coronavirus surge is likely in the fall and winter, with cases already trending up since mid-September. And should this next surge be like the last few, the brunt of it will be borne by Black and brown Americans.
The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.