Standing in front of a sea of mostly white supporters at an August 2016 campaign rally in Michigan, Trump argued that life in America is so horrific for black Americans, they might as well change things up and vote Republican.
“You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"
Trump speaking to supporters in Michigan in August 2016. Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images.
Let's look past the inaccuracies and oversimplifications in his statement for a moment (most black people are not living in poverty, that 58% figure is wildly off the mark, and the assumption that every predominantly black school is "no good" is, at best, incredibly offensive), and take his assessment at face value.
What would black Americans have to lose under President Trump?
Many of us knew the answer, of course: a lot. Reporters and activists jumped on Trump's condescending remarks, pointing out that black voters would, in fact, be harmed by several key points of the then-candidate's policy agenda.
Six months into Trump's term, Rep. Maxine Waters of California hasn't forgotten Trump's now-infamous question.
And she's helping us understand just how much damage has already been done.
Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images.
In a fiery five-tweet response, Waters recalled the president's remarks from last year and lambasted what's happened since.
Trump asked what Blacks had to lose. It was apparently healthcare, housing, college admission, & freedom after Sessions locks everyone up— Maxine Waters (@Maxine Waters) 1501699819
In her first tweet, Waters pointed out that Trumpcare would have a devastating effect on black Americans (fact check: true), that the president's massive budget cuts would slash housing assistance to low-income communities of color (fact check: true), and that his more recent attacks on universities' affirmative action policies would make college less accessible for black students (fact check: true).
Then she went in on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling him "a threat to our democracy."
Sessions is a threat to our democracy, working to reverse civil rights gains in college admission, police misconduct, & crim justice reform— Maxine Waters (@Maxine Waters) 1501700019
Coretta Scott King warned everyone in '86 about Sessions' "reprehensible conduct" & "abuse of elderly black voters." Sessions hasn't changed— Maxine Waters (@Maxine Waters) 1501700123
Sessions' history of hardline positions against criminal justice reform, immigration & the violence against women act are well documented— Maxine Waters (@Maxine Waters) 1501700216
Trump wants to fire Sessions b/c he can't count on his protection. He should be fired for his racist agenda - but that's why Trump chose him— Maxine Waters (@Maxine Waters) 1501700270
With the power of the federal government at his disposal, Sessions has dismissed reports of police brutality, is working to stomp out the growing national consensus that our criminal justice system needs reforming, and voted against expanding protections under the Violence Against Women Act — all moves that disproportionately harm black Americans.
As Waters pointed out, we should have listened to Coretta Scott King when she warned us about him in 1986.
"Trump wants to fire Sessions [because] he can't count on his protection," Waters concluded in her final tweet, referring to Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation. "[Sessions] should be fired for his racist agenda — but that's why Trump chose him."
So, what do black voters have to lose, according to Waters?
Apparently, quite a lot.
"At the end of four years, I guarantee you," Trump said during that 2016 speech in Michigan, "I will get over 95% of the African-American vote. I promise you.”
Considering Trump's approval rating among black Americans remains laughably poor, I wouldn't hold my breath through 2020.