This week, Donald Trump made his most direct appeal yet to African-American voters to join him in making America great for Donald Trump again. While painting a portrait of black America steeped in generalizations about failure, violence, hopelessness and poverty, Trump asked voters with a patented shrug, "What do you have to lose?" A NY Times report today on how Trump got his start in the housing industry under his father answers that question, with extensive documentation of the company’s practice of turning away, or segregating, potential black tenants for decades.
The Times writes: "Drawing on decades-old files from the New York City Commission on Human Rights, internal Justice Department records, court documents and interviews with tenants, civil rights activists and prosecutors, [this investigation] uncovered a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond."
Most of the racist practices of the Trump organization were seemingly set by Trump's father, Fred Trump, who came under scrutiny starting in the 1960s from civil rights groups that had received complaints from prospective African-American tenants such as Maxine Brown. "I just wanted a decent place to live," Brown reflected on her experience trying to get housing at a Trump building.
She seemed like the model tenant. A 33-year-old nurse who was living at the Y.W.C.A. in Harlem, she had come to rent a one-bedroom at the still-unfinished Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. She filled out what the rental agent remembers as a “beautiful application.” She did not even want to look at the unit.
There was just one hitch: Maxine Brown was black.
Stanley Leibowitz, the rental agent, talked to his boss, Fred C. Trump.
“I asked him what to do and he says, ‘Take the application and put it in a drawer and leave it there,’” Mr. Leibowitz, now 88, recalled in an interview.
Brown filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and after a hearing, eventually was offered an apartment. She was the only African-American in the building for over a decade. As the Times put it, "the few minorities who did live in Trump-owned buildings often had to force their way in."
There are many other examples of these sort of practices in the piece, which add up to a portrait of a business that was continually unwilling to change its biased policies unless under extreme pressure by lawsuits or government oversight. The big takeaways here: Trump was being groomed by his father in the business throughout these incidents, and idolized his father ("Anytime he would come into the building, Donald would be by his side," as one former employee put it). Even today, Trump can't admit any wrongdoing on the company's part—to do so would be to admit his father wasn't perfect.
Also pointed: when the younger Trump found himself on the front pages of the tabloids for the first time when the Justice Department sued Trump Management for discriminating against blacks, Trump struck a stubborn, defiant pose, turning the lawsuit into "a protracted battle, complete with angry denials, character assassination, charges that the government was trying to force him to rent to “welfare recipients” and a $100 million countersuit accusing the Justice Department of defamation." Going on the offensive and accusing your accusers of the very things you're accused of? Sounds familiar.
— CNN (@CNN) August 25, 2016
Even after those countersuits were dismissed and he was forced to sign a consent decree (intended to ensure the desegregation of Trump properties), Donald viewed it as a great victory for the Trump organization. He dismissed all of it in a few paragraphs in The Art Of The Deal: “In the end the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up making a minor settlement without admitting any guilt,” he wrote (though saying he wrote that is far too generous).
Trump's sudden appeal to African-American voters seems to too-little, too-late: as Politico reports today, his recent Hail Mary attempts to escape "the straitjacket that his 14 months of incendiary comments and hard-edged policy positions have him in" is for naught. With Trump polling in the single digits among African-American voters, some Republican strategists say that no amount of "softening" can help Trump overcome his biggest impediment: himself.
“Minority outreach is an example of a campaign addressing a fake issue and not a real issue, which is Donald Trump’s character,” said Drew Cline, a GOP operative in Bedford. “It’s not about policy or that people like Hillary, because they don’t. It’s that people aren’t comfortable with the idea of him having that much power.
“He could have the exact same policies that he has and be doing much better and be giving Hillary a more competitive challenge if he just came across as a reasonable person that you would trust with the levers of power. There’s no salvaging this campaign because there’s no changing Donald Trump.”
And in case you think Trump really has turned over a new leaf, one look at his recent tweets says a whole lot more.
9:24 a.m., 12:26 p.m. and 1:48 p.m. pic.twitter.com/2kcTbXA6cg
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) August 27, 2016