Why Black North Carolinians Are Not Showing up Early for Democrats

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Democrats have known they are in hot water with a substantial portion of black voters this year, and in these last days of campaigning they are pulling out all the stops to mobilize this group for party standard-bearer Hillary Clinton.

Careful analysis of past elections shows that Democrats simply cannot win the key states housing large black populations without capturing approximately 85% of the black vote with very high turnout.

But there is trouble in those big states. In an October 20-22 Remington Research Group poll of 1,997 likely Pennsylvania voters, for example, Republican nominee Donald Trump had 29% of the black vote, and 30% of the Latino vote. If this trend holds elsewhere, then Hillary Clinton will certainly lose this election.

Nowhere is the Democrats’ desperation for black votes more visible than in North Carolina. Here, because 22% of residents are African American and the state swings, just a sliver of this demographic has the power to decide presidential contests. Presumed to be solidly for Clinton, Blacks nonetheless can make the difference either by voting Republican or by simply staying home. That’s why a presidential or vice-presidential candidate has held major campaign events in this state practically every day in recent weeks.

CNN reported Tuesday evening that in early voting “African-American turnout has dropped in North Carolina, Florida and Georgia” and the GOP “has improved its standing in Florida, Iowa and North Carolina.” An online New York Times headline read “Black Turnout Soft in Early Voting, Boding Ill for Hillary Clinton.”

Attempting to put out this fire of black malaise, First Lady Michelle Obama ’88 showed up at Wake Forest University for a rally with Clinton on October 27 in Winston-Salem. Clinton then headed on to surprise the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in nearby Greensboro, reportedly now the country’s largest historically black university.

Nobody should disregard Clinton’s noteworthy record on civil rights, dating all the way back to the 1970s. She has long stood for women’s rights as well, telling the truth as a Wellesley College senior and standing up for her generation before doing so in such places was socially fashionable. Her sincerity is why I supported her until the bitter end of her 2008 primary against then-Senator Barack Obama ’91, an unknown Illinois figure with a strange background who seemed to me to have spent most of his adult life narcissistically fighting for better opportunities for himself. Nevertheless, he was elected twice, and he did it by energizing and then turning out record numbers of black voters.

So why can’t Clinton – whom Obama has openly declared among black audiences to be the fulfillment of his own legacy – close the deal to defeat Trump?

It may be because so many black voters sense that Obama has led their party into territory that is counterproductive, if not hostile, to black interests and values – especially those of black Southerners, who are more conservative than those in all other regions of the country.

“I am done with the Democratic plantation,” declared a black Baptist minister, from the South but living and voting in Pennsylvania, whom I interviewed this week. “Whatever good intentions my former party had, their time is up; Obama was the last straw.” The minister spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of increased online reprisals that took hold after he voiced his support for Trump in a Facebook posting several days ago.

Discrimination Enforcement Re-Prioritized

Rather than focusing entirely on stepping up enforcement of civil rights for blacks, women, and the other groups that are specifically identified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which black college students and Martin Luther King demonstrated to pass), Obama’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Education have twisted regulations, priorities, and dollars to channel them into advancing the interests of transgender persons, who were not even thought of when a bipartisan Congress was erecting and perfecting our formal civil rights edifice in the 1960s. Surely if they had been, then Durham native Pauli Murray, a black female champion of traditional civil-rights concerns, herself a very early and open transgender figure in American legal life, would have lobbied for inclusion of such persons in the 1960s statute in which she had a major hand.

To be sure, prominent economist Julianne Malveaux lamented recent presidential priorities on Sunday from the pulpit of Washington, D.C.’s historic Shiloh Baptist Church. Formerly president of Greensboro’s all-women Bennett College, she explained during a black-history teach-in that, whereas President George W. Bush had appropriated more than $80 million in above-and-beyond funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Obama cut it out.

Meanwhile, Obama’s White House Initiative on HBCUs indicated to a group of college presidents that some of the approximately 100 institutions “needed to close.” I guess Obama is happy now that at least two such schools not far from North Carolina have stopped admitting new students and/or closed permanently, killing jobs and aspirations: Presbyterian-affiliated Knoxville College in Tennessee, where my paternal-great-grandfather matriculated in 1888, and Episcopalian St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va., which was about an hour from Raleigh and highly regarded for producing effective black schoolteachers before shutting down permanently in 2013.

Then, on May 9, Obama dispatched Attorney General Loretta Lynch ’84 into a strange press conference where she attacked the state of North Carolina. On live television, she warned her home state that the U.S. Department of Education would further punish the state’s public HBCUs vicariously if the North Carolina refused to repeal the just-passed Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2, which, in proponents’ parlance, was designed to prevent grown men from entering little girls’ restrooms. She veiled Obama’s threat by simply referring to “the University of North Carolina,” but everybody knows that this system includes roughly 30,000 black students, faculty, and staff at the five public HBCUs in North Carolina.

If the Obama administration makes good on Lynch’s threat, then they will have dealt a potentially fatal blow to the state’s public HBCUs, which serve a disproportionate number of first-generation and/or financially needy young people in our state.

Lynch’s threat, delivered on live television as she announced she was suing the state over its just-passed legislation, had a particular sting because Lynch is a native of North Carolina and is the daughter and sister of black Baptist ministers in this state. As I watched her remarks live on MSNBC, I felt a sense of betrayal by an Attorney General whom I had lauded from afar from the time she was appointed. From my perspective, she fell from grace on May 9; she had chosen to become Queen Esther in reverse – beating down her own people, seeming to have forgotten where she came from.

Black North Carolinians were left scratching their heads. Why hadn’t Obama’s Department of Justice ever threatened to withhold federal funds from this state because of the voting rights and racial gerrymandering controversies of the last four years, which were clearly black issues grounded in the federal statute passed after Selma’s infamous Bloody Sunday, the Voting Rights Act of 1965? After all, black voters were the group who had helped Obama eke out a victory over Republican opponent John McCain in 2008 in this state, a vital win in his achieving the symbolic feat that had escaped even Bill Clinton in both of his presidential elections: attaining a majority of the vote nationwide.

Likewise, rather than redoubling efforts to assist blacks economically through employment opportunities, the EEOC is now targeting the nation’s churches, having sued the Salvation Army last month and having sued a Lutheran church and school in Michigan in a landmark case that Obama’s EEOC embarrassingly lost 8-0 at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.

My in-depth longitudinal study of 25 EEOC cases brought since 2010 by women, blacks, and other groups covered under the statute has exposed a downright damning trend, to be unveiled at Friday’s Elon Law Review symposium on judicial process taking place in Greensboro: In virtually every instance, the EEOC failed or is failing the victims it was intended to aid, too frequently refusing to aggressively enforce the employment-discrimination laws for blacks, women, and the other groups actually in the authorizing statute. Arbitrary and capricious administrative judges appear to be taking their cues from an administration not sufficiently committed to protecting blacks’ jobs but interested in social engineering via far-left regulations never authorized in legislation.

In July 2015, Obama’s Department of Justice even sent a team of lawyers to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to intervene against a black female veteran. She was over 50 years old and a veteran of both Iraq wars, and I represented her in her case in the before that court. A disabled middle-school special-education teacher on an Army base in the South, this diligent educator had filed several appeals challenging the government’s taking of her particular “veterans’ preference” points that our heroes are supposed to be automatically granted when applying for jobs in the federal government, as 5 USC § 2108 requires. Obama’s Department of Justice moved to intervene, arguing that federal bureaucrats may take away those points without even specifically notifying the veteran that she had ever been deprived of the entitlement. For this American, it turns out that being a black female disabled veteran is a triple whammy in the age of Obama. She successfully blocked the DoJ’s intervention, but the Supreme Court of the United States declined last month to hear her appeal. She is now waging a similar battle back at the EEOC, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ issues, which are viewed skeptically by many blacks as a matter of wealthy whites’ making, dominate the Democratic agenda. Despite statutory silence, new protections have found their way into Obama’s regulations, as campaign dollars pour in from this economically privileged community and its allies. Though the LGBTQ community certainly presents new issues of justice and civil liberties that are important if not compelling, these questions quite clearly do not rise to the level of historical black disempowerment and have gotten a pass in the political process relative to black interests, even as blacks suffer.

Consider 2014’s numbers relative to 2009, when Obama became president:

  • The seasonally adjusted labor-force-participation rate for black Americans across the board has slipped from 63.2% to 61.7%.
  • The percentage of black Americans struggling below the poverty line has advanced from 25.8% in 2009 to 26.2% in 2014.
  • Real median income among black households during those years, according to the Census Bureau, sank from $35,954 to $35,398.
  • The number of black food-stamp participants exploded across that time frame from 7,393,000 to 11,699,000
  • The percentage of black Americans who own homes declined from 46.1 percent to 41.9 percent.

As noted black journalist Tavis Smiley summarized earlier this year, “Sadly — and it pains me to say this — over the last decade, black folk, in the era of Obama, have lost ground in every major economic category.”

The lived experiences of blacks in places like North Carolina are dramatically different from those who inhabit Official Washington’s black bubble, which, Wikileaks is showing, has been dominated by a cadre of black lieutenants claiming to care but accomplishing almost nothing not already taken care of prior to President’s Obama’s arrival eight years ago.

Many of us in the legal community who are fighting actual battles on behalf of actual blacks are giving thanks that this massive, eight-year head fake has finally been exposed. We now are looking to the future with hope for change.

Trump May Win Out

Reports this week are specifically noting that North Carolina’s black college students, long a liberal bloc, are not voting early as they had in 2012. With employment discrimination and high student loan debt still a problem for them, entrepreneurial millennials want to land good jobs or start stable businesses. Yet the Democratic Party has focused on legalizing drugs, attaching body cameras to police officers, and letting convicted criminals vote as the answers to young blacks’ prayers.

By contrast, the GOP, in non-racial terms (as usual), focuses on fostering a better climate for starting businesses, including Trump’s promises to reform taxation, replace the Obamacare that too many black millennials cannot afford, and invest more capital in small businesses in our urban cores, in part by prevailing upon the big banks that have hoarded their bailout money for eight years.

Trump seems willing to operate toward blacks as Richard Nixon did, focusing less on emotional appeal and more on concrete economic empowerment and growth in our communities’ self-sufficiency. We might anticipate a reincarnation of the Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Corporations, the innovative Nixon set-aside program that has be credited with helping to produce 21 black millionaires in the city of Atlanta alone during the 1970s, thanks in part to the vision of then-Mayor Maynard Jackson of requiring 25% black-contractor participation in the reconstruction of the Atlanta airport. This kind of Republican economic policy in Washington fused with intelligent Democratic leadership in our cities led to a spike in black prosperity and wealth that we have not enjoyed since the 1970s. In fact, it was the MESBICs that helped to establish the legendary Reginald Lewis ’68 as the richest black man in the world, a wealth that he spread to other black firms and American institutions before dying on the eve of President Clinton’s first inauguration at the young age of 50.

Thus, North Carolinian Blacks this election year are asking, “Are we better off now than we were four years ago?” For the many North Carolinians whose answers are an emphatic “no,” the next logical question is, “Why not?” They quietly blame Obama, and Clinton is negatively tied to his laissez-faire administration through the Democratic apparatus he has redefined under the unfortunate rules of Citizens United.

When he appeared on the national scene a mere 12 years ago, Obama marketed himself as a black civil rights attorney and community activist who, raised by a single mother, had left behind drug use and perennial underachievement to land on top at Harvard Law School. If he couldn’t or wouldn’t do any better than he has for black voters, African Americans reason, then how on earth could a white lady named Hillary?

Feeling the racial slights orchestrated by the rich, hard-left folks now in charge of the Democratic Party, innumerable self-respecting black North Carolinians will either abstain from voting or go for Trump, whose 45-minute policy appeal to African Americans issued in Charlotte on Wednesday October 26 was the most realistic and plausible such policy speech I’ve heard since Bill Clinton brought us a set of new and viable ideas in 1992.

Trump called his program a “new deal” to African Americans.

“Today I want to talk about how to grow the African-American middle class, and provide a new deal for black America,” Trump said, specifying over the next 45 minutes how to create “safe communities, great education and high-paying jobs.”

“Our opponent represents the rigged system and the failed thinking of yesterday. … She’s been doing this for 30 years, and for 30 years, it’s only gotten worse.”

Trump has emphatically, defiantly, and repeatedly exhorted the black voters whose support he craves elsewhere on the campaign trail, asking, “What the hell do you have to lose?”

Given all the information that has come to light very recently, this turns out to be a very good question. Blacks voters’ answers to it have the power to decide this election and, one would hope, to exercise a positive influence on the re-direction of our country over the next four years, effecting better outcomes for all.

Amos N. Jones ’06 is an Associate Professor of Law at Campbell University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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