Why Trump re­ally par­doned the John­sons

He’s woo­ing blacks and killing Demo­cratic Party

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS | OPINION - Rochelle Ri­ley

As the Demo­cratic Party re­mains in the coma it en­tered in Novem­ber 2016, Pres­i­dent Trump is per­form­ing his great­est magic trick. And he’s do­ing it right un­der their noses.

Any­one who thinks Trump’s de­ci­sion to par­don the late boxer Jack John­son and com­mute Alice Marie John­son’s un­fair sen­tence wasn’t part of a greater plan is delu­sional.

Don­ald Trump is woo­ing black vot­ers. Any­one who thinks that Trump didn’t gain some black votes by those re­cent ac­tions doesn’t un­der­stand the power of con­nect­ing with the dis­con­nected.

In Detroit, and other ur­ban ar­eas — where we can’t get more than 14% to 20% of reg­is­tered vot­ers to turn out for a mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion and where many peo­ple still love Kanye West — Trump might be res­onat­ing.

And now he’s con­sid­er­ing par­don­ing Muham­mad Ali, who doesn’t need his sup­port, but that won’t stop Trump from claim­ing that he saved his rep­u­ta­tion. Af­ter Trump floated the par­don idea, Ron Tweel, lawyer for the boxer’s estate and his wi­dow, Lon­nie, is­sued a state­ment: “We ap­pre­ci­ate Pres­i­dent Trump’s sen­ti­ment, but a par­don is un­nec­es­sary. The U.S. Supreme Court over­turned the con­vic­tion of Muham­mad Ali in a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion in 1971. There is no con­vic­tion from which a par­don is needed.”

In fact, in 1977 Pres­i­dent Carter par­doned ev­ery ob­jec­tor who de­clined the Viet­nam War draft.

It is one more dis­trac­tion, among a se­ries of dis­trac­tions from fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions that Trump has tried. He also has tried threat­en­ing to fire peo­ple. He has even raised the idea of par­don­ing him­self. But, fear­ing lit­tle, he’s now work­ing on his re-elec­tion cam­paign. Oh, you missed that?

Most peo­ple did. When Trump an­nounced, it was barely a blip on the na­tional radar. He an­nounced it while be­ing fed­er­ally in­ves­ti­gated and wav­ing off charges that his fam­ily is ben­e­fit­ing from his be­ing in of­fice. He had raised $10 mil­lion by April. And the NAACP didn’t march. And the Ur­ban League didn’t put out a state­ment. And in Detroit, no one said a word.

While the Demo­cratic Party is sleep­ing, fo­cused on win­ning Novem­ber’s midterms rather than unit­ing be­hind a sin­gle 2020 can­di­date to chal­lenge Trump, the pres­i­dent is woo­ing black vot­ers with the help of Kim Kar­dashian, who’s mar­ried to the Mad Rap­per and has mil­lions of Twit­ter fol­low­ers, many of whom are black.

Trump is suc­ceed­ing at some­thing few peo­ple thought pos­si­ble. He is get­ting some black peo­ple to com­pare him to Barack Obama. Obama didn’t get Alice John­son out of jail. Obama didn’t par­don Jack John­son, even though Ken Burns asked him to and pro­duced an en­tire doc­u­men­tary ex­plain­ing why.

Trump isn’t killing the Repub­li­can Party. He is killing the Demo­cratic Party. He is sin­gle-hand­edly mak­ing peo­ple for­get the strength and re­silience and heart of the party that once tried to de­fine it­self as the place for the lit­tle guy, for the left-outs, for the have-nots.

He is do­ing it by mak­ing peo­ple be­lieve that he, whom Forbes de­scribes as the first bil­lion­aire pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory, cares more about the lit­tle guy than Democrats do.

He is mak­ing peo­ple for­get that the Demo­cratic Party cham­pi­ons pro­grams for the de­scen­dants of the en­slaved while the GOP at­tempts to con­vince us that slav­ery wasn’t as big a deal as we have been taught.

Trump is woo­ing black vot­ers by ac­cept­ing the friend­ship of peo­ple like co­me­dian Steve Har­vey, who be­lieves that wealth is a choice, and Kanye, who be­lieves that slav­ery was a choice.

If they’re not care­ful, the Democrats will look up and re­al­ize that the black base they’ve taken for granted for decades might not be as en­thu­si­as­tic as in the past. It’s not that they might vote for Trump. But they may not vote against him.

That gives Trump his sec­ond term, and should give us all pause. And Trump’s sec­ond big­gest magic trick, af­ter be­ing elected, will be com­plete.

Rochelle Ri­ley is a colum­nist for the Detroit Free Press, where this piece first ap­peared, and au­thor of The Bur­den: African Amer­i­cans and the En­dur­ing Im­pact of Slav­ery.

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