In his second State of the Union address, President Donald Trump, touted his administration’s accomplishments and emphasized how people of color, in particular, have benefited. But as always, his rhetoric invites skepticism and must be taken with a grain of salt.
In many instances, the President has been either erroneous, disingenuous (although he didn’t mention being impeached once during his speech) or flat out wrong. The SOTU — the last he’ll give before the 2020 election — was no exception. So, when he talked about Black folks, exactly how accurate was he? Here are seven examples of where the President needs to check his facts.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “The unemployment rate for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans has reached the lowest levels in history.”
THE REAL DEAL: While the Black unemployment rate is currently low, hitting 5.5 percent in August 2019, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, there’s no way to tell if this number actually reflects the lowest in history since the BLS only started tracking that data in 1972 when it was as high as 11 percent, according to CNBC. To be fair, the argument can be made that it’s the lowest in that 45-year period, but wages for African American workers have been stagnant over the last decade, according to Marketplace.org and did not suddenly jump when Trump became president.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “Everybody said criminal justice reform couldn't be done, but I got it done, and the people in this room got it done.”
THE REAL DEAL: Trump signed the First Step Act in 2018 with support across the aisle and it has been beneficial toward its goals of reducing recidivism, making the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, and helping to shorten prison terms for as many as 2,500 people, many of them Black, who were locked up for crack cocaine offenses.
But the Trump administration also seems to be fighting against letting some of the very same people out of prison that it is supposed to help. First, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued for lengthening prison sentences in 2017. His successor, William Barr has reportedly raised concerns that crime could be driven up and the administration could be blamed for it, according to The Washington Post. In a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police last August, Barr criticized district attorneys who do not prosecute certain non-violent offenses, The Hill reported.
“So these cities are headed back to the days of revolving door justice. The results will be predictable. More crime, more victims,” said Barr. Reaching farther back, during his first term as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992, he was more stern about his position, writing a paper entitled, “The Case for More Incarceration.”
Federal prosecutors have also made efforts to block early release for certain inmates. In March, for example, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Bockhorst requested that federal judges hold up on more than 24 applications for sentence relief. The reason was that she expected that she would oppose some applications based on guidance from the Justice Department, the Post reported.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “A few weeks ago, I signed a bill promoting [Tuskegee Airmen] Charles McGee to brigadier general, and earlier today, I pinned the stars on his shoulders in the Oval Office. Gen. McGee, our nation salutes you. Thank you, sir.”
THE REAL DEAL: McGee is a 100-year-old World War II hero who is also one of a few surviving members of the legendary Tuskegee Airforce. Honoring him and showcasing his legacy through McGee’s 13-year old, great grandson, Iain Lanphier is commendable, especially since Lanphier, who is studying at an aviation academy in Arizona, hopes to one day attend the Air Force Academy so he can eventually go into space. Unfortunately it seems as if the honor was cloaked as a way for the President to boast about his agenda for the country’s new military branch, Space Force instead of really honoring this remarkable military hero.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “Janiyah, I have some good news for you. 'Cause I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an opportunity scholarship has become available, is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice.”
THE REAL DEAL: Trump used Philadelphia fourth grader, Janiyah Davis and her mom, Stephanie to push passage of the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act and did while mentioning the marchers at Selma, Ala. in 1965 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to insinuate his support for Black people having school choice by way of federal tax credits. He singled out Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, saying that he vetoed legislation to broaden school choice to 15,000 schoolchildren by giving tax credits to businesses that donate to scholarship funds for K-12 students. While it is true that Wolf vetoed the bill, and it would have expanded the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit by about $100 million a year, the bigger picture is that Wolf also signed a $34 billion bill into law last June that still meant an expansion for those scholarships and lifts the cap on those tax breaks from $160 million to $185 million, according to Philadelphia’s WHYY.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “To expand equal opportunity, I am also proud that we achieved record and permanent funding for our nation's historically Black colleges and universities.”
THE REAL DEAL: The president is referring to bipartisan legislation he signed in December aimed at supporting Black colleges and universities. Congress passed bipartisan legislation called the FUTURE Act, which permanently gives $255 million in annual funding to colleges that serve a large number of minority students, with $85 million earmarked for HBCUs. But there are 102 of these schools and many are undergoing serious financial challenges that this one act alone won’t solve all of their problems. Programs like the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program did go from $245 million in federal funds in 2017 to $325 million in fiscal 2019, according to Inside Higher Ed. But at the same time other federal funds have declined. For example much needed science and engineering financial support for HBCUs have seen a dip of 17 percent since 2016.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “... We are working on legislation to replace our outdated and randomized immigration system with one based on merit, welcoming those who follow the rules, contribute to our economy, support themselves financially and uphold our values.”
THE REAL DEAL: Black people who are seeking to emigrate from several African nations are likely to disagree. The Trump administration expanded its Travel ban at the end of January to include Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan and Tanzania. Nigerians and Eritreans are now no longer eligible for immigrant visas and the Sudanese and Tanzanians are blocked from entering the diversity visa lottery all together. Nigeria is not only Africa’s most heavily populated nation, but its people make up the largest number of African immigrants in the U.S. at about 327,000, meaning many will be cut off from friends and family for now. The ban is reportedly not intended to be permanent, but rather a response to those and other nations not complying with certain U.S. security requirements, according to NPR.
WHAT TRUMP SAID: “Jobs and investments are pouring into 9,000 previously neglected neighborhoods, thanks to opportunity zones, a plan spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott as part of our great Republican tax cuts.”
THE REAL DEAL: Trump has always seen “opportunity zones” as a way for him to reach out to economically challenged Black and Hispanic neighborhoods through the 2017 tax cuts package but since those incentives benefit investors, critics see them as feeding gentrification. The tax breaks are offered to developers who either pay no taxes or can defer on their tax payments as long as they are invested in a particular community. Since there’s no set rule on what an investment can look like, the developers could easily insert a company or institution that does not employ people in that neighborhood.
“Opportunity zones continue the trend of incentivizing wealthy white people to return to the very neighborhoods they fled in the ‘80s and ‘90s because they were ‘too’ Black, wrote political strategist Angela Peoples on Marketwatch.com in October.
(Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)