Yet Trump showed less confidence as he dropped names of important African-Americans in history, including one particularly notable orator, activist, journalist and abolitionist.
“Frederick Douglass,” he said, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job, that is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
Yes, and just about everyone watching him on TV could hear Trump’s use of the present tense. Did Trump think that Douglass, who died in 1895, is still alive?
Press secretary Spicer seemed to be caught completely off-guard by requests to clarify Trump’s statement. But he forged ahead, sounding as confident as a man who actually knew what he was talking about, although not quite.
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said. “And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
And more. Yes, as Spicer tried to explain his boss’s remarks, he too sounded as though he thought Douglass might still be around.
Where, I wondered, has Douglass been hiding for 122 years? In some warehouse perhaps with the millions of ballots that Trump insists were illegally cast for Hillary Clinton?
As if that were not enough mixed messages for one day, Vice President Mike Pence posted a tweet in which he too recognized the beginning of Black History Month — by honoring a white man:
“As #BlackHistoryMonth begins, we remember when Pres. Lincoln submitted the 13th Amendment, ending slavery, to the states #NationalFreedomDay.”
I’m certain Pence meant well. I love Lincoln for many reasons, not the least of which is the freeing of my ancestors.
Still, Pence could have avoided this dustup if he had taken the time to find a black American worth honoring, as the name of Black History Month suggests.
For example, do you know who happened to be one of the staunchest, most eloquent and influential voices among those that urged Lincoln to free the slaves? Frederick Douglass.
And, like most black voters in those days, he was a Republican. “I recognize the Republican Party,” he wrote in 1888, “as the sheet anchor of the colored man’s political hopes and the ark of his safety.” Those were the days.
So much has changed since then that the two parties have switched places on race, especially since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, and the divide has only deepened in recent years.
Against that historical backdrop, Donald Trump has promised to be a president for all the people. Great. But as an old saying goes, we need to know where we have been before we can figure out where we’re going.