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Will the real Donald Trump get the coverage he deserves?

With his appeals to Black voters, Trump is catering to a white audience

Donald Trump participates in a roundtable at the 180 Church in Detroit, Michigan, on June 15.
Donald Trump participates in a roundtable at the 180 Church in Detroit, Michigan, on June 15. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

“Donald Trump tries courting Black voters at Detroit church with Michigan up for grabs in 2024 election” was just one of the headlines that the presumed Republican presidential nominee must have loved. The recent event drew lots of media attention, if only for its “man bites dog” novelty. It was Trump doing the unexpected, going after a constituency that the Democrats supposedly have locked up.

What a Trump thing to do!

The only problem with the stop was something that some but by no means all coverage bothered to note: A significant number of the attendees were white. Nothing wrong with that, of course. I’m sure the pastor of 180 Church welcomes all.

But the point the Trump campaign was making, successfully in media outlets with little more than drive-by reporting, was that Trump is not the racist his opponents and Biden ads try to paint him as. After all, he’s reaching out.

At a roundtable discussion at the church, Trump didn’t do himself any favors when he said he did more for Black folks than any president since Abraham Lincoln or laid down a line of misinformation, including that his administration ushered in the lowest unemployment rate and poverty rate for African Americans.

No, that would be President Joe Biden.

And his recent comments that he can’t be racist because of the rich and powerful Black folks, mainly men, he deals with had a creepy “some of my best friends are Black” vibe.

But what a great photo op “Trump goes to Black church” provided, particularly with no follow-up. If you only pay passing attention to the news, something many do, that’s what stuck.

I don’t believe his visit to Detroit was aimed at Black voters at all. Instead, the intended audience likely was white voters just tuning in, maybe those on the fence who might be feeling just a twinge of shame as Trump demonizes majority Black cities and those led by Black mayors as crime-riddled cesspools. Or when he dangles a new golden sneaker style. Or uses felony convictions to burnish his street cred.

If they can say, well, he must not be racist — he visits a Black church, he’s buddies with Don King — they can mark that ballot with a clear conscience.

I even have a problem with the characterization “Black church,” just as I hate the term “Black community,” though I have probably used them myself on occasion. Though both quickly conjure a particular image, they generalize. (For example, I doubt my predominantly Black childhood Catholic parish in the heart of Baltimore would quite fit the picture.)

You seldom see stories on the “white church” or “white community,” an acknowledgment of the diversity that would make such labels unthinkable. The same diversity exists among African Americans, and where and how they live, worship and vote. Yet trying to replace those phrases with something closer to the truth would confound editors and headline writers in newsrooms across the country.

That’s a problem that’s bigger than one story about one church visit.

After 2016, there was acknowledgment that news organizations didn’t take Trump seriously enough, didn’t spend time they needed to in digging deeper, past the showman’s “The Apprentice” persona. But the pattern is repeating; after all, Trump is a skilled entertainer who knows how to turn even a courtroom into a stage.

Busy political reporters with deadlines create narratives. And one that has taken hold this election cycle is Black voters flocking to Trump and the Republican Party. There may be something to that, but whatever “there” is really there is surely much more nuanced than a few events with a Black pastor or a Rep. Byron Donalds puffing on a cigar in Philadelphia would indicate.

I’m still waiting for more stories that report the plain truth. If Trump returns to the White House, it won’t be because a majority of Black voters turned to him. I can say without polling that that won’t happen. It will be because the majority of white voters put him there. In fact, the most recent NPR/PBS News/Marist poll shows Trump’s percentage point advantage among white voters doubling in the last month, from a 6-point to a 12-point lead.

Is there a message that appeals to them that has little to do with the economy?

You could see a lot of those voters, young and boisterous, at Donald Trump’s other stop in Detroit, the “People’s Convention” of Turning Point Action, a group the Anti-Defamation League warns “continues to attract racists.” It was held in the same venue where angry Trump supporters tried to disrupt the counting of absentee ballots after the 2020 presidential election, insisting that nonexistent fraud was happening, primarily in Black areas.

These voters might be more interested in Trump’s calls to crush “anti-white” racism if he’s elected, not quite what he was selling at the church.

When allies of Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, who has called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a “huge mistake” and trashed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., took the stage to toss out “White Boy Summer” hats to a cheering crowd, I don’t think they were referencing a hip-hop meme.

This week, the country marked Juneteenth, a federal holiday established under the current president, Joe Biden. On June 19, 1865, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to announce that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free by executive decree.

The slaveholders in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas did not give up easily, part of the history every American needs to know.

And today, with states and courts pushing back on efforts to correct the legacy of enslavement and Jim Crow and to merely teach the truth, many are still engaged in following the example of those recalcitrant slaveholders, hiding the facts for their own benefit.

Expect Trump to do what he does so well, what he did in the battleground state of Michigan — try to appeal to everyone with contradictory messages pitched with a con man’s panache.

You’d hope the media could see through the stardust.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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