Donald Trump took questions from uncommitted voters at an ABC town hall event broadcast last night, covering topics from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to restoring “law and order” – as well as systemic racism.
But when asked by Philadelphia pastor Carl Day whether he understood that the slogan “Make America Great Again” grated with many black Americans who struggle to recall a time when America was “great” for them, Mr Trump talked mainly about his own achievements.
“I can say this,” he said, “we have tremendous African American support. You’ve probably seen it in the polls. We’re doing extremely well with African-American, Hispanic-American at levels that you’ve rarely seen a Republican have.” Mr Trump is currently polling at around 10 per cent among Black voters.
The president then cited black home ownership, income and unemployment, reflecting that pre-pandemic US under his watch was “the best single moment in the history of the African-American people in this country,” before Mr Day tried to bring him back to the question.
“We have not been seeing a change, quite frankly, under your administration, under the Obama administration, under the Bush, under the Clinton, the very same thing happening, the very same system, the cycles continue to ensue.
“And we need to see, because you say again, we need to see when was that great, because that pushes us back to a time in which we cannot identify with such greatness.”
“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” the president responded. “I can tell you, there’s none with me, because I have great respect for all races, for everybody. This country is great because of it.
“But when you go back six months and you take a look at what was happening, you can’t even compare that with past administrations.”
At another point in the event, pressed on the issue of black people being three times as likely to be killed by police as white people, Mr Trump talked at length about “giving the police back the authority to stop crime” regardless of the presence of “bad apples” who “choke under pressure”.
The president has claimed many times that he has built the best economic opportunity that black Americans have ever enjoyed, but as both Mr Day and town hall host George Stephanopoulos pointed out, the vast black-white wealth gap endures, severely limiting both opportunities and financial security for the majority of black people.
The pandemic has brought this to the fore, with black Americans far less likely than their white counterparts to have savings and assets to fall back on while the crisis guts the economy.
They have been far worse hit by Covid-19 itself, with the death rate per 100,000 among black people two-and-a-half times that among white people.
Asked on CNN what he thought of the president’s answer, Mr Day was circumspect.
“He tap-danced around it. I believe also, he couldn’t really give an answer because there is no answer to it, to be honest with you.
“Quite frankly, Americans in the hood, African-Ameriacans in the hood, in the ghettoes of America has (sic) not experienced any ‘greatness’ throughout America. A lot of things which people continue to point to about American ‘greatness’, African-Americans weren’t really featured or highlighted or actually supported during those points in time.
“So he did exactly what I pretty much expected, kind of point to statistics and numbers, you know, stats that he probably had no substance behind, but really couldn’t point us to a time, which I pretty much expected.”
However, Mr Day also cut the president some slack on Twitter later in the evening, appreciating at least that he answered the question at all.