By Peter White
An all-volunteer group stages online debates with resolutions like “Have President Trump’s policies been good or bad for Black America?
A moderator calls on a speaker who argues one side and then answers two questions before moving on to a speaker who takes the opposite position. The event lasted one and a half hours.
It was not actually a debate. There was no back and forth, no rebuttal segment, no presentation of evidence, and no cross-examination. It’s a sanitized debate format and there is no winning side. The panel is a mix of independents,
conservatives, and liberals.
The goal is to get people of opposing views to listen to each other respectfully and see if they learn anything from the other side. The idea of civil discourse got high marks from people on the call in the two polls they took during the show. Although 77% of attendees felt respect was shown to others, only 30% reported a deeper understanding of the issue.
Joe Collins, a Republican congressional candidate from California, said Trump has done “a lot of great things” to improve Black communities. “The thing that I like the most is the opportunity zones (OZ),” Collins said.
A recent article by Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute argued that OZs don’t really create jobs or raise wages in depressed neighborhoods and that most investments in OZs would have happened anyway.
Some census tracts are eligible simply because they are adjacent to a poor neighborhood like the Brooklyn waterfront. NYU researchers published a paper last month that confirmed opportunity zone investment has disproportionately flowed into OZs that were already flourishing.
There are three OZ projects in Nashville. Two are in WOHO and one is on 3rd Avenue South. The part of town between Lafayette St and 8th Ave. South heading towards the 440 Parkway is quickly becoming gentrified.
Collins also lauded Trump for criminal justice reform and cited the Fresh Start Act of 2019 as an example. It deals with expunging the records of felons convicted of non-violent crimes. Trump signed the bill, took credit for it, but the bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on January 3, 2019.
Sherry Gillam, who is African American and a Republican, credits Trump for giving HBCUs permanent funding and getting rid of undocumented immigrants. “Illegal immigration has decimated black population in big cities,” Gillum said.
“Trump deported about 750,000 undocumented immigrants in his first three years in office, but most were trying to get into the country, not already living here,” according to Nicholas Kristoff in a recent New York Times OpEd. He noted President Barack Obama deported more people during his first three years in office.
Kristoff said Trump never tried to remove all undocumented immigrants. “He did unleash a reign of terror directed at migrants, including separating young children from family members,” he wrote.
Gillam blamed Democrats for the destruction of Black families because fathers can’t be in the house if mothers want federal support for housing and food assistance.
“Trump has been in office four years now. He’s not running these inner cities. They have been run by Democrats for decades since the sixties when all this started,” she said. “In order to take this money, lady, the man has to leave the household. That’s what started the breakdown of black families,“ Gillam said. She blamed LBJ.
Aid to Families with Dependent Children began during the Ford administration in 1975, and with it, the creation of Child Support Enforcement Agencies (CSEA) in every state. CSEAs and the courts have fined and imprisoned thousands of Black fathers. While various welfare reform laws have been passed during Democratic administrations, the destruction of Black families has been a bi-partisan affair.
Trump did get $255 million to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions as part of the FUTURE Act. He signed the act two months after funding programs for HBCUs expired in October 2019.
The Future Act was crafted by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R, TN). It simplified the FAFSA student loan application and put several higher education federal programs on the same 10-year appropriations cycle. However, HBCU funding is not permanent. In 2029, Congress must reapportion HBCU funding.
In February 2018 Trump called for massive cuts to college student aid programs. In May 2019, the President devised a plan to finance a moon shot by raiding nearly $2 billion from the Pell Grant surplus. He asked Congress to rescind $1.9 billion from the Pell Grant Program and give the money to NASA.
He sought to change student loan repayment plans that would increase college education costs by $200 billion over a decade. He tried to cancel the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Trump had detractors among the panelists. “When white folks catch a cold Black folks catch pneumonia,” said Silas Kulkarni. He the said speakers were talking like the pandemic didn’t exist, just like Trump did for months when it first struck.
“Almost 40,000 Black Americans have died from COVID-19. They are getting hit harder than any other group. Blacks have been hospitalized seven times higher than whites, and one in a 1,000 have died,” he said.
Kulkarni said the Black unemployment rate has jumped from 6.1% to 16.1%. “Two and a half million people are out of work. That is going to lead to all kinds of crises down the road and that was largely preventable if the COVID-19 response was better.”
Dominique DiPrima is a radio talk show host, activist, and a mom. “He wants to say that he’s a populist,” DiPrima said. “But yet his biggest economic accomplishment is a huge enormous tax cut for the very wealthy at the same time talking about cutting what they call “entitlements” what I call the earned benefits of social security, Medicare, and other safety net programs.”
She said Trump has used the White House as a means of creating vast wealth and opportunity for himself and his relatives. “At the same time he doesn’t provide the same kinds of opportunities for everyday Americans, particularly people of color,” she said.