DETROIT -- Donald Trump visits Detroit Saturday insisting he is the change agent that America’s blackest big city needs in the White House, but residents have a message for the Republican presidential nominee: Not buying it.
Many here acknowledge that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, has fallen short in improving conditions in blighted communities.
But in interviews ahead of the Republican flagbearer’s scheduled appearance at a black church, several African-American Detroiters told AFP they were adamant that Trump is not the answer.
“We have evaluated the Republican Party’s platform and found it wanting, examined its most recent messenger and found him revolting,” said Eric Williams, who runs a clinic at Wayne State University Law School that helps black small business owners.
“There’s absolutely nothing Donald Trump can do to significantly raise his standing in the African-American community.”
Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly argued that despite their propensity to vote Democratic, black Americans have been let down by the policies of party stalwarts like his campaign rival Hillary Clinton.
“What the hell do you have to lose” in voting Trump, he blared in Ohio last month, albeit to a vastly white crowd, as he highlighted the rampant unemployment, horrific schools and war-zone-like violence that plague some black communities.
Detroit, which is more than 80 percent black, is all-too-familiar with such problems.
The city filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history in 2013, and its failing schools are under emergency management, with enrolment steadily shrinking.
Downtown is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. But midtown black neighborhoods remain decimated, with buildings boarded up, rows of homes abandoned, and crime and drugs abundant.
In the 1970s and later, a large and prosperous middle class born out of Detroit’s automobile industry imploded as car plants shed jobs, closed up or moved out.
“The black middle class suffered the most” because so many African-Americans had been drawn to the auto sector, only to see those jobs disappear, said Reynolds Farley, a professor of population studies at the University of Michigan who has studied Detroit for decades.
“There’s a great deal of suspicion among blacks, and whites, that Trump could actually bring back those jobs,” he added.
“Detroiters don’t really think he has a solution.”
Instead, they wince at his racially charged rhetoric, including his repeated verbal assaults on a federal judge of Mexican heritage, and his goading on of attendees at his rallies who get into fisticuffs with protesters, several of whom have been black.
Democrats regularly remind voters that Trump’s backers include former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke — although the candidate has publicly rejected the extreme-right endorsement — and that Trump spearheaded the dubious “birther” movement which sought to cast doubt on Obama’s nationality.
“No, we don’t forget that,” Williams said of Trump’s birther conspiracy. “Why would we? It’s where his heart is.”
Trump will sit for an interview by the pastor of Great Faith Ministries International, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, and then address the congregation for five or 10 minutes, according to reports.
A woman named Charelle, who asked that her last name not be used, said it was “ludicrous” to think Trump has any intention of legitimately addressing the concerns of black America during such a brief visit.
“Sure he can come and sit there and be engaged with black folks. But it’s just a photo op, and then he can say ‘Look, I’m not racist!’” she said.
David Bullock, a pastor and civil rights activist running for a seat on Detroit’s city council, said Republicans and Democrats alike “have failed distressed urban communities for years.”
But Clinton has a massive advantage among black voters because of the extensive groundwork that she and her husband president Bill Clinton laid in the 1990s and earlier.
“There’s a layer of trust that Hillary has with traditional black leadership that Trump just doesn’t have. And he doesn’t have time to build that,” said Bullock.
But Trump may not even be aiming to peel black votes away from Clinton.
He could be strategizing that dumping on Democrats — repeatedly citing their failure to notably improve conditions in inner cities — will convince some blacks to stay home on election day.
That, warned Bullock, might help swing a battleground state such as North Carolina, where the race is tight and the African-American population is substantial, in Trump’s favor.
“From the Trump side, this makes perfect sense,” he said of the candidate’s visit. “But we know that this is not about helping Detroit. This is a campaign stunt.”