Why Trump re­ally par­doned the John­sons

He’s woo­ing blacks and killing Demo­cratic Party

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Rochelle Ri­ley 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.

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.

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