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    Friday, May 17, 2024

    Best president for Black America since Lincoln? C'mon, man!

    Let us now celebrate the calming, sedative qualities of a mute button.

    Yes, the mere addition of a mute button in the second and final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden appears to have been all it took to squelch the constant interruptions, mostly from the president, that plagued the first debate. Instead, the second debate offered something approaching a serious exchange of ideas and a good contrast between how these two men see the world, as well as the big gap between the worlds in which they live. 

    That gap was particularly obvious when they tackled one of the hottest of this nation's hot buttons, "Race in America."

    Both gentlemen agreed on one thing: They had entered the race because they didn't like how the other handled issues like hate groups, unemployment, criminal justice and systemic racism.

    "You guys did nothing," Trump said as Biden disagreed. "Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama. Because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job, I would have never run."

    Same here, says Biden on the stump − or, famously, by videoconferencing from his basement.

    Trump lambasted Biden and Obama for failing to do enough to address these critical Black community issues during their eight years in office.

    Biden similarly cites racial divisions as his reason for running, particularly Trump's startling suggestion after the 2017 violence between white supremacists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that "both sides" were equally at fault.

    Trump has denied strongly that he had that message in mind and, as he has declared in numerous speeches this year, "Nobody has done more for the Black community than I have, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln." 

    Yes, he went there. Again. Trump has been comparing himself to Lincoln in that fashion for months. At the debate, he also called himself the "least racist person in this room." 

    Here's a tip, Mr. President. If you have to make such an unprovable claim, maybe that's the problem.

    At least Trump should be giving props to another fellow Republican, Ulysses S. Grant, who went after the rising Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. Or Democrats such as Harry Truman, who desegregated the military, or my own favorite choice, Lyndon Johnson. He signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, all of which opened up new opportunities for my baby boomer generation.

    And the nation's first African-American president, Obama, deserves applause, particularly for the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, which has reduced racial disparities in health care. Trump despises the program, which has gained too much popularity for him to attack without promising a replacement − one he has yet to produce and on which congressional Republicans have been unable to agree.

    But Trump does have a story to tell. For example, he boasts of how his administration has funded historically Black colleges and universities, although he also likes to brag that, "They couldn't get funded. Nobody was funding them for years and years and decades, nobody was funding them," Trump said. 

    Actually, no. Under Obama, the federal government invested more than $4 billion in HBCUs over a seven-year period.d Trump's opportunity zones, proposed by South Carolina's Tim Scott, the Senate's only Black Republican, to encourage investment in underdeveloped communities, are a great concept but have tended to benefit communities that aren't the most distressed, according to a New York Times report last year. Their investors also have included billionaires and Trump family members for "high-end apartment buildings, hotels and other low-workforce facilities," the Times said.

    Mixed reviews also have gone to a more recent Trump effort to woo Black voters: his "Platinum Plan" for Black Americans, famously endorsed by rap and movie star Ice Cube. The plan includes a potpourri of proposals as varied as designating the Ku Klux Klan and antifa as terrorist organizations; making lynching a hate crime; recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; and boosting homeownership, small businesses and job creation. The plan is admirably ambitious yet unfortunately vague about how it will meet its lofty goals. The Democrat-dominated Congressional Black Caucus also complains about its similarity to a CBC-proposed plan that the president had declined to discuss. So much for racial outreach.

    As Biden repeated incredulously during the debate, c'mon, man.

    Four years ago the president offered Black Americans the odd sales pitch, "What do you have to lose?" A better question for both sides these days is, "What do you have to gain?"

    Clarence Page's columns are distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

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