On Oct. 26, 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke to a mostly African American audience in Charlotte, North Carolina. He said:
Every African American citizen in this country is entitled to a government that puts their jobs, wages, and security first. … I will not let you down. You watch. … Here is the promise I make to you. Whether you vote for me or not, I will be your greatest champion.
Prior to the economic shutdown and the murder of George Floyd, some believe Trump was on his way to fulfilling that promise. Even if the economic comeback is strong, something else is needed.
In 1994, Republican Congressmen Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey created a Contract with America, a list of proposed legislation they promised would be enacted if voters gave their party a House majority. They did.
Though many of the proposals either did not pass or were watered down in negotiations with President Bill Clinton, a few survived and became law.
That contract was a good idea because it helped to change the political dynamic in favor of Republican issues. What is needed now is a Contract with Black America.
I asked Gingrich what such a contract might include. In addition to reinforcing universal values like health, strong families, faith, home, and property ownership, the former speaker added:
Develop a new public-private partnership with neighborhood churches to strengthen their role in the community, including child care, better schools, and K-12 Pell Grants that parents could spend at church schools, private schools, charter schools, or traditional public schools.
Recruiting neighborhood residents for the police is another good suggestion, given the broken relationship between law enforcement and African Americans in this country.
Turning opportunity zones into “reality zones” is also a positive suggestion. Gingrich explains: “Opportunity zones have had relatively limited impacts because they use capital gains tax money, which doesn’t help small businesses and only have an indirect impact.”
The real challenge, he says, is not only economic, but cultural and structural: “To succeed there has to be safety from crime and work has to pay more than either dependency or crime.”
He proposes distance learning, support groups (an opportunity I would add for retirees to share their experience and skills), and free online education that includes the basics of reading, writing, and math “so that every person who was cheated by the failed government schools early in their life can get free access to learning and mentoring.”
He also recommends a “sweat equity program so everyone in public housing has the opportunity to earn equity in their home by taking care of it and learning to maintain it.”
There’s more, but these are his fundamentals.
Beyond Gingrich’s ideas is a need to better know each other. How many white people know any black people? How often—if at all—do white people invite those of a different race or ethnicity to their homes for a meal and the reverse? Those Wednesday night suppers many churches offer would be an ideal beginning for interaction.
We don’t listen enough to each other’s stories. Instead, too many throw rhetorical bombs (and during the recent riots, Molotov cocktails), reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes. The media are conspirators in this because they rarely show pictures or do interviews with peaceful protesters, or even those African Americans who aren’t protesting.
As a political strategy (doing good should be sufficient motive), Republicans might peel off significant numbers of African American voters from Democrats, if they made solid and workable promises to that community.
In his Charlotte speech, Trump said:
Enough waiting. The time is now. There is nothing we cannot accomplish. There is no task or project too great. There is no dream outside of our reach. Everywhere I go in this country, all I see is untapped potential waiting to be set free. And maybe the greatest of that potential is in the African American communities.
Let’s get that contract with black America written and passed. There may never be a better time.
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