Life comes at you fast. Especially when it’s life with Donald Trump as the president-elect.
With his two thumbs and his late-night TV-watching habits, his endless U.S. tour of “thank you/victory” rallies and his dizzying array of head-scratching, where-the-heck-did-that-come-from Cabinet choices, The Donald has obliterated the so-called 24/7 news cycle. Instead, it’s usually about 24 minutes before one major Trump news headline is swapped out for the next one, maybe 7 hours for a huge breaking story. Our fickle news media struggle to keep up with an even more fickle president-elect — the ADD-impaired leading the even more ADD-impaired.
That was certainly on full display last weekend. The ink was barely dry on newspaper headlines with a shocking twist in the 2016 election saga — the CIA report suggesting that Russia meddled in the process with the goal of helping Trump win – before a whole new story line emerged. Trump would name the CEO of the world’s largest oil giant, ExxonMobil, for the crucial post of secretary of state.
Even that’s hardly sunk in before the short-fingered vulgarian-in-chief takes to his Android in the pre-dawn gloaming to transmit some thought, off-the-wall and maybe even unconstitutional, about flag burning, or a show he watched on TV. Monday, he briefly tanked the stock price of a major American corporation, Lockheed Martin, simply by hitting the tweet button on his phone. Soon, savvy investors are sure to be trading options on the “Trump tweet futures market.”
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And yet, other stuff blows right past you. Big stuff. Important stuff. I noticed this on one of my typically exciting Friday nights at home when the most entertaining thing on the tube was yet another Trump victory rally, this time in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The future 45th president was rambling, as he is prone to do, and abruptly started talking about the role that black voters played in the election. I heard Trump say something that was so outrageous that not much later I was loading and re-loading Google, searching for a news article or a transcript to confirm that I’d actually heard what I’d heard.
“The African-American community was great to us,” Trump told his crowd Friday night. “They came through, big league. Big league. And frankly if they had any doubt, they didn’t vote, and that was almost as good, because a lot of people didn’t show up because they felt good about me.”
That’s right — Trump, the future guardian of our democratic norms, praising citizens who didn’t exercise their right to vote because it helped him politically. That’s appalling, but it’s also something that Trump, still a political neophyte even after winning politics’ biggest prize, does a lot. He blurted out a basic truth of modern 21st-century elections — that Republicans win when they find ways to keep anyone who’s not part of their heavily white and older voting base away from the ballot box.
It’s just that no other GOP stalwart would ever say this out loud.
There’s some truth in the realpolitik of Trump’s analysis. He did do just a tad better among the African Americans who did vote than Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008 — aided by not having President Obama on the ballot. And a drop in turnout hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton. There are some estimates that up to 2 million black voters who cast ballots for Obama didn’t vote in the 2016 race.
But that didn’t happen in a vacuum. In state after state controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, early-voting periods were reduced, polling places in urban neighborhoods were shut down or voter ID laws — which fell the hardest on nonwhites, students and senior citizens — were imposed. We’ll probably never fully gauge how many nonwhite voters stayed home in Wisconsin or North Carolina, two states with new voter ID laws that were narrowly won by Trump.
When the president-elect praises people not voting, he also enshrining this war on fundamental voting rights.
And, under the looming Trump presidency, that will only get worse. His nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, once called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation,” and supported the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision, striking down part of that law, by saying, “If you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.” A right-wing Trump nominee to the Supreme Court might well help gut what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 legislation won only after blacks marched into nightsticks at Selma, in Sessions’ home state.
But there is no understanding from Donald Trump of the majestic importance of those 1950s and ’60s civil rights struggles, nor any appreciation of the concept of what voting rights even mean. The only praiseworthy public behavior in Donald Trump’s America is behavior that benefits Trump — even if that’s staying home on Election Day. Trump’s remarks and his views on voting are a scandal, a disgrace.
At least, they ought to be. With Hurricane Donald battering our media shores every night, it was just one more flying tree limb.
Will Bunch is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
©2016 Philadelphia Daily News