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President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign got underway with a bang and a few familiar black faces this past weekend at an airport hangar in Florida.
And I emphasize blackface here only to underscore the minstrel-like antics of the three to four black folks in the obligatory background shot of the President’s most recent installment of what can now only be referred to as his permanent campaign.
The technocrats who arrange these scenes foregrounding president/candidate Trump against a backdrop of adoring supporters must either be utterly desperate for any black face to smile and shine for President Trump or absolutely cynical about who Blacks-for-Trump2020 really are.
Sadly, in this case, the desperation and cynicism both seem to be true.
I know that we have all already gotten quite good at the “Imagine if Obama…” game in these first few moments of the Trump administration, but imagine if Obama had given a campaign speech – or any speech for that matter – flanked by members of an organization whose leader was reportedly a former member of a black supremacist cult accused of beating and killing people.
Yes, Sean Hannity’s head would explode, but questions about Obama’s patriotism would abound; conspiracy theories pegged to some nebulous secret agenda would proliferate; and challenges to his citizenship and legitimacy as president would be headline news.
All of this happened anyway – without former President Obama associating himself with a recreant sociopath. Please visit BlacksforTrump2020.com if only to see Sean Hannity in a mighty cheesy photo-op posing with the man who fancies himself as the leader of this group.
The front man for Blacks-for-Trump is a shadowy figure, Maurice Symonette, also known as Maurice Woodside aka “Michael the Black Man.” Symonette was a follower of the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult and was a self-proclaimed “warrior against the whites.”
It’s unclear exactly when he made his ideological pivot away from his black supremacist cause toward his more contemporary sheen of ultra-conservative conspiracy theorist. But he has leveraged this pivot into multiple appearances at candidate Trump’s rallies. He even received a shout-out from candidate Trump at a campaign rally in South Florida last October.
His most recent appearance didn’t elicit a shout-out from President Trump, but one has to wonder how someone with an explicit black supremacist, cultist past, a murder charge and several felony charges – all of which he was never convicted of – could have passed the Secret Service security threshold to stand that close President Trump. Rally or not; need for blackface or not, the Trump administration’s endorsement of Blacks-for-Trump2020 reeks of desperation.
The poorly-designed Blacks-for-Trump2020 webpage consists of a series of YouTube videos featuring Symonette usually talking to the camera or otherwise yucking it up at the Super Bowl or other public places where he can proclaim that Trump and Republicans are not racist or that Obama is the devil.
In the top video on the page, Symonette addresses “Ms. Kellyanne” and President Trump directly, imploring them to not compromise with Democrats, as if that were a real thing.
He also implores them to embrace Blacks-for-Trump as (he claims) Ivanka has. The title of the video – “Donald Trump don’t forget Blacks for Trump your weakest family member” – says it all even as it makes little to no sense in the clumsy way that Symonette tries to interpolate Revelations into his messaging.
We could call “Michael the Black Man” an apostate, but the religious irony might be lost on him and his handful of Revelations-quoting followers. Maybe it is more accurate to think of him as a racial heretic in the way that Amiri Baraka imagines heretics suffering in a mundane hell of their own machinations.
But the question of what President Trump thinks he gains from featuring Blacks-for-Trump at his rallies before and after his election requires a different set of hermeneutics to decipher.
Given what we’ve seen of several of President Trump’s cabinet appointments – especially Scott Pruitt at the EPA, Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, Rick Perry at the Department of Energy, and Steve Mnuchin at the Treasury Department – is that the Trump administration is deeply invested in the systematic deformation of American/national institutions.
We see this more clearly in his direct attacks aimed at media, the federal judiciary, and American intelligence agencies or in his threats to defund PBS, the NEH and the NEA. But the presence of Blacks-for-Trump is a more subtle if not deliberate slap in the face to the civic (and civil) institutions that black folks have fought and died for since this country’s inception.
In the end, Blacks-for-Trump represents this administration’s embrace of the worst elements of blackface minstrelsy – public performance of black stereotypes deployed solely for the purpose of edifying white supremacist nationalism