Donald Trump plans to take his black voter “outreach” to a predominantly African-American audience with a visit to Detroit this weekend, perhaps to quell criticism that his recent speeches about African-Americans have been delivered primarily to whites. That was certainly true during his August stop in Charlotte, N.C., where he began tailoring his message to black voters, who have been roundly rejecting him at the polls. “If African-Americans give Donald Trump a chance by giving me their vote,” he said, “the result will be amazing.” The Republican presidential candidate cast Democrats and their nominee Hillary Clinton as the true bigots, who “have taken African-American votes totally for granted.” But Trump’s inclusive Charlotte takeaway — one that seemed geared to the diverse, more progressive “New South” city — has been undermined by a series of clumsy and insulting overtures, and by his and his party’s support for tactics that could remind many black voters of the old South.
It was in Pennsylvania, another battleground state he must win, where Trump echoed a familiar and shameful theme in American history: that some citizens — and their votes — are more legitimate than others. He suggested that “independent” monitoring was needed at voting places in urban parts of the state — Philadelphia, for example — to prevent citizens casting multiple ballots and other vaguely fishy goings-on. There is still a call on his “Make America Great Again!” website, asking for volunteers to sign up as a “Trump Election Observer” to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”
This all brings back images of Jim Crow-style poll-watching, of African-Americans and other voters of color having to somehow prove themselves worthy of participation in U.S. democracy, with every kind of proof never being enough. It was a call for intimidation masquerading as oversight, though it may take more than any challenge to discourage dedicated citizens such as Rosanell Eaton. She was a named plaintiff and witness in one of the challenges to the strict North Carolina voting law that was effectively killed — at least for this election cycle — by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week.