Trump vs. The Congressional Black Caucus: Robert Patillo Examines The Politics of Strange Bedfellows

Politics have a strange way of creating unlikely alliance out of supposed enemies.  The process of deal making, compromise and negotiation forges new political paradigms and forcing temporary arranged marriages for the singular purpose of achieving a shared goal.  An example of this was the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  On the one hand, you had a fractured Democratic Party coming off a bruising election in 1960 where Kennedy squeaked out a win by the skin of his teeth over Richard Nixon.  Northern Democrats and Southern Dixiecrats were at each other’s throats over the issue of Civil Rights while at the same time socially moderate Republicans sought to avenge their loss in the 1960 election by solidifying support from Black voters.

The nation was divided, not between the political Left and Right, but rather between the North and South.  This put Black voters in a position of being “King Maker” in the 1964 election.  This swing voter status led President Lyndon Johnson, a conservative Texas Democrat, to support comprehensive civil rights reform. The reasoning behind this was that he knew southern Democrats did not have the numbers to stay in power on their own and now needed a coalition of northern Democrats and black social progressives.  By making this bargain southern white conservatives Democrats got to maintain political power as they controlled congress and the White House and the black community got the Civil Rights Act, Urban Transportation, Food Stamps and other parts of the “Great Society.”  Thus, in a masterful political stroke, LBJ united 3 disparate groups to push forward an agenda that helped their political enemies. Neither side got everything that they wanted. All sides were forced to make compromises.  But in the end the nation moved forward.

American and the Black community finds themselves in a similar position today.  There are serious problems facing Black America. Unemployment is double the nation average, racial profiling, police brutality, broken homes, the prison industrial complex are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed.  However, with Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of the House and Senate it does not seem likely that much progress will be made by a party that in recent years has not been a friend of the Black community.  But this is where the strange bedfellows of politics come into play once again.   Republicans need black votes in 2018 and 2020 in order to maintain political power.

The reason for this is that the 2016 saw a maximization of the traditional Republican base.  Trump whipped conservative voters into a frenzy which neither McCain nor Romney could ever match.  In Republican strongholds voter turnout was massive and in nearly every swing state Trump pulled out victories.  This will be nearly impossible to re-create.  As the political Left gears up their “Resistance” movement and activates the party apparatus to prevent any of the Trump agenda from passing, Republican’s will not have the results needed to maintain this level of support and will need to find new voters just as LBJ did in 1964.  For this reason, even in an administration with Steve Bannon as an advisor, there may be room for the Black community to make progress with a party desperate for fresh support.

The groundwork for this has already been laid, during the campaign Trump laid out a barebones “New Deal for Black America” outlining his what he viewed as agenda items for the Black community. In response on January 19th 2017 the Congressional Black Caucus sent a reply letter to Trump laying out 5 pages of agenda items that they would like to see support for.  This discourse picked up steam when journalist April Ryan asked Trump at an impromptu press conference if he would meet with the CBC to which Trump replied by asking her to set up the meeting.  Media hysteria ensued, yada-yada-yada, Trump has a back and forth with Rep. Elijah Cummings about whether or not Trump invited him to the White House and if Cummings canceled the meeting. More yada-yada-yada, and the White House reached out directly to the CBC and Rep. Cummings stated that he believes the CBC will sit down with Trump when Congress returns to session.

Ok, we’re all caught up now.  The meeting is scheduled and we can have a substantive discussion with the new administration.  Both sides have presented their visions for what the agenda should be for the Black community.   Now we can get to the nitty gritty, this cannot simply be a meeting between Tump’s black friends and the CBC in front of the cameras with no real discussions or resolutions.  Similarly, the CBC cannot come into the meeting with the “Resist” mentality.  The meeting should include the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Labor Secretary Acosta and other germane cabinet officials.  Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell should be involved and out of this discussion should be a clear list of legislative compromises that will actually help the community.

In sum, the CBC holds all of the cards right now.  They can make or break the next 4 years of America politics.  However, if they decide to self-relegate themselves to just another special interest group of the Democratic party the needs of the community will be again placed at the back of the line.  If Dr. King and the “Big 6” civil rights leader could work with a southern segregationist like LBJ to craft a compromise that ultimately helped white Dixiecrats maintain power for the next decade in exchange Civil Rights then them modern CBC should be able to work with this, or any, administration to make the changes that we need in our community.

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