Donald Trump lacks a certain fluency when it comes to speaking about African-Americans, or to them.
“We’re going to work on our ghettos,” the Republican presidential nominee said last week in Ohio to a largely white crowd. The word “ghetto” isn’t necessarily a slur, but it is creaky with age, conjuring images of Richard Roundtree and Elvis Presley.
The candidate’s vision of the lives that black Americans lead can be stark: “Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen,” he said in August — and then famously held up his own candidacy as the solution.
“What have you got to lose?” Trump asked.
The flattery hasn’t yet paid off. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely Georgia voters last week, only 3 percent of African-Americans said they supported the New York businessman.
So when I learned that Trump’s eldest son and namesake would be in Atlanta, home of the civil rights movement and a thriving black middle class, and would meet a group of African-American business leaders — well, call it a must-see event.
The Friday morning venue was The BQE restaurant and lounge on Edgewood Avenue, within a stone’s throw of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. complex. “This is the black Wall Street,” said Bruce LeVell, the Dunwoody jeweler who heads up Trump’s national diversity effort.
You can count Levell among those who aren’t bothered by Trump’s awkward vocabulary when speaking of race. “He’s 70,” Levell said, reminding me that, once upon a time, my generation thought “groovy” was, well, groovy.
Perhaps a hundred had gathered by the time Donald J. Trump Jr. arrived. Among them was Alveda King, a niece of the slain civil rights leader, who declared she had already cast an early ballot for Trump.
Trump Jr. has some of the scatter-shot speaking style of his father, bouncing from topic to topic. But he quickly made an effort at inclusiveness, on the topic of school choice.
“We have the real opportunity to break the cycle of poverty that affects so many. And that’s not just in the inner cities. That’s in rural areas,” the namesake said. “All of these policies, they’ve failed us all as Americans. Not as some sort of subgroup, some sort of subsector.”
Trump Jr. also identified anger as a multicultural emotion.
“It’s not just the old angry white guys that are upset with government. That’s what the media would have you believe. But I see it. Young, old, women, men, African-Americans, Hispanics,” he said. “There are some white people, too.”
Trump Jr. spoke of the need for reduced regulation of business, and of the need to free up credit. He offered up his father’s immigration policies as a solution to the high rate of unemployment among black youth. “Their jobs are being taken by someone working off the books,” he said.
He defended one slogan of the Trump campaign: America First. “If the plane’s going down, you put your mask on before you help those around you,” Trump Jr. said.
But whether out of neglect or discretion, the son made no mention of the other Trump slogan: Make America Great Again. Many African-Americans find it hard to name a period of history they’d rather return to.
Even so, the nominee’s son doubled-down on the point his father made in August. “He’s right. What do you have to lose? It’s not like the policies of the left have gotten you anything,” Trump Jr. said.
There were no questions that might be raised in other places and other times – for instance, on the state of relations between black communities and police.
But it was a short, 30-minute event. A helicopter was waiting to take Trump Jr. to a mostly white church in Milner, and the last man to rise for a question was cut off. He sat next to me.
Latron Price had wanted to quiz Trump Jr. on the way that law enforcement agencies and courts bleed black citizens white with arrests and fines – a la Ferguson, Mo. “I’m talking about civil rights in the application of local policing, in the application of the justice system and the way the courts are run and operated,” Price said.
I wish he had been given a chance to speak. Not just because it was a good question, but because I had noticed his wife. Dr. Zenobia Day-Price, a physician, sat beside him during the event, quietly holding her battered copy of the Quran.
The Prices are Muslim. And you do not see many Qurans at Donald Trump events.