One of the big changes in our national consciousness, thanks to President Trump, is that many of us are starting to see politics in terms of “deals.” We are also thinking about a growing economy. Compare that approach to the Obama/Bernie/Clinton worldview that is more about wealth transfer in a world of scarcity. For my purposes today, you don’t need to decide which approach is better. I only make the claim that we are more focused on the Art of the Deal than at any time in American politics. This is one of the many ways President Trump is in our heads.
And the deal-making mindset, along with some lucky coincidences, has created the greatest opportunity for improvement that the African-American community has seen in decades. At the same time, Republicans have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn a larger share of the black vote in 2018 and beyond. All we are missing is the right deal. Is there a potential deal that is good for President Trump and the GOP while also being good for BLM?
Yes. And it isn’t even hard.
I’ll get to that deal after some necessary context. (It’s worth your time.)
You probably remember that candidate Trump famously asked African-American voters during the campaign “What the hell do you have to lose?” It sounded like a weak offer when I first heard it. But combined with his deal-making approach to politics, you could also see it as an invitation to pitch some ideas. The door is open.
Some of you might recall that when Colin Kaepernick started the kneeling trend in the NFL, I publicly offered to help translate any ideas he might have for improving the lives of black Americans into “Republican language” so there would be some hope of persuading the group that held the most political power. I never heard any specific suggestions from Kaepernick. But as I often say, he gets full credit as a Master Persuader for capturing our attention and holding it. He has skin in the game, he broke no laws, and he turned a back-burner issue in America into a front-burner issue. I give Kaepernick an A+ for American activism. Was Kaepernick offensive to people who love the flag and respect the police? Absolutely. That’s why we paid so much attention. But he didn’t break anything except for the way we think, and that was his objective.
As of this writing, Kaepernick only got us halfway to where he wants us to be. He lacked specific suggestions for improvement. Black Lives Matter has been similar. They get high marks for attracting attention, but they have so far been more provocative than helpful. I need to pause here to tell you that BLM has a wide range of personalities and priorities in it. On one extreme you have folks who are anti-police, anti-borders, pro-violence, and other unhelpful positions. But other chapters support the rule of law, including support for police, and are looking for practical solutions to real problems. If you dislike the extremists in BLM, consider supporting the BLM leaders who are focused on peaceful and practical solutions. That’s the mindset that gave us Martin Luther King Jr. I think that worked out for everyone.
Black Lives Matter (NY Chapter), under the leadership of Hawk Newsome, just came up with a set of suggested improvements that can — with a little negotiating — appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. If both parties like what they see, Republicans have the stronger hand because they are in power at the moment. The tie goes to the party that can make things happen. Love him or hate him, President Trump does make things happen. And he likes making deals. In other words, BLM of NY is answering President Trump’s invitation with a “What do you have to lose?” offer of their own.
If you have the time to hear my persuasive pitch of BLM-NY’s ideas on video, see them here. For the full persuasive effect, watch the video before reading the “spoilers” that follow. But this blog post can be consumed without watching the video.
I contacted Hawk Newsome to see how I could help his cause after watching a video in which he flipped a crowd of Trump-supporters from haters to friends in about five minutes. It was one of the most impressive acts of persuasion I have ever seen. Watch it here and see what I mean. This isn’t the BLM you thought you knew.
Hawk shared with me an early version of his chapter’s suggested improvements for the country. Again, I was impressed. The suggestions were beneficial to Americans in general, not just the black community, although that group might feel they have the most to gain, and perhaps they do. This was the same sort of persuasion strategy that got President Obama elected twice. Obama emphasized his policies, not his color, and that approach allowed people of every ethnicity to support him. BLM of NY figured out how to do the same thing. They offer practical suggestions that are designed to be good for people in general. I can support that.
Prior to publication of BLM-NY’s suggestions, I ran them past a prominent Republican to see what he thought. To my surprise, the prominent Republican — who shall remain nameless for now — told me BLM was thinking too small. So he offered as an alternative some bigger themes that I’ll share with you first because these are quite compatible with BLM’s priorities.
A Prominent Republican’s Vision for Improving Black Lives (because they matter):
- Create safer neighborhoods to attract jobs and create optimism.
- Fix school bureaucracies in communities where students are failing.
- Create apprenticeships for unskilled adults
- Address the opiod epidemic directly and by improving the environment.
You probably think those are good priorities. BLM agrees. And if I took it further and asked you which group thinks Charter schools are a good idea, you might be surprised to learn that the answer is “both.” On the big stuff, and on much of the small stuff too, BLM is entirely compatible with Republican ideals. When you are trying to make a deal, it helps to start with the parts upon which you agree.
Now I’ll share with you the BLM-NY list of suggestions. These ideas go directly to improving the credibility of the police. Republicans want the police to be credible too. Republicans also like good data, the rule of law, voting participation, and legal decisions that are free of bias. That’s what BLM-NY is focused on too. Here’s their list. Notice that every suggestion is useful for citizens in general, not just one ethnic group.
Ideas from Black Lives Matter – New York
- Prosecute and jail police that falsify reports.
- Police must call an ambulance if defendant complains of illness.
- Voting rights for people in prison
- Independent prosecutors for police killings of unarmed civilians.
- Comprehensive national database of police shootings.
- New York holiday for Day of Remembrance for victims of police brutality.
I’ll discuss these points in order.
Prosecute and jail police that falsify reports.
I think most Republicans would agree that a police officer who falsifies a police report must be held accountable. Republicans like the rule of law, and they like honesty. So far, BLM and Republicans are on the same page.
Police must call an ambulance if defendant complains of illness.
You might not know that people in police custody have died while begging for medical care that was not granted. I think we’d all want access to emergency medical care if we were in police custody. You might see some abuses of the system, but I think we’d all agree this one is worth discussing.
Voting rights for people in prison
I’ve never understood why prisoners lose the right to vote. Voting makes people feel part of the system. It seems like one of the few psychological influences that can nudge law-breakers toward becoming law-abiding. Realistically, only a small percentage of convicted criminals would bother to vote. The prickly part is that most would (presumably) vote Democrat. But Republicans can compete for those votes, and should. A good start would involve taking the lead in returning the vote to that class of folks.
Independent prosecutors for police killings of unarmed civilians.
Why not try independent prosecutors for police shootings of unarmed civilians? You could test it in one city or more and see how it goes. Budget-wise, I suspect we’d be better off in the long run with this sort of credibility-improving process. Perhaps you’d get less after-verdict violence. It’s worth discussing, and probably worth testing somewhere.
Comprehensive national database of police shootings.
Republicans will argue that the data does not show police are more violent with black suspects. African-Americans will tell you their lived experience says otherwise. BLM-NY offers the only sensible way forward, recommending national standards for reporting police violence against unarmed civilians. Who hates better data?
New York holiday for Day of Remembrance for victims of police brutality.
New York can decide on whether or not it wants a Day of Remembrance for victims of police brutality. I think the idea as proposed is divisive, framing the situation as one in which police are the bad guys. The point of the suggestion is to keep the problem of police violence against unarmed citizens in our thoughts, but I’m sure there’s a more productive way to do that. For example, if BLM and the GOP find a way to work together on some parts of this list, no one will forget that anytime soon. I prefer focusing on the positives.
Now consider how perfect the set-up is for a win-win deal between African-American voters and the GOP. President Trump’s biggest political problem is the perception that he’s a racist. Improving the economy and the job market doesn’t fix that problem, although it helps. But taking seriously BLM-NY’s list of suggestions — in some negotiated and improved form — would be a game-changer.
President Obama was hugely popular among black voters, but there is a sense in the African-American community that he didn’t deliver. Democrats have no charismatic leader at the moment, and not much power at the federal level compared to the GOP. Never before has the GOP been in such a strong position to make a play for a good portion of the African-American vote. All they need to do to get the ball rolling is take BLM-NY’s suggestions seriously as a basis for a deal. And BLM-NY is making that easy by presenting practical ideas that are not race-specific.
I spoke with Hawk again yesterday and both of us had just watched the recent viral video of a police shooting of an unarmed man in a hallway as it had been recorded on the police officer’s body cam. When you see the video you can understand why the cop opened fire. The man was reportedly armed, according to the initial call to police, and refused to keep his hands where he was ordered to keep them. In this case, the body cam protected the police officer as well as the reputation of the police by showing us exactly how the tragedy unfolded. Hawk and I were left wondering if a greater focus on body cams for police would be a practical approach to building confidence between the black community and police. I don’t know the answer, but here again we see a practical idea that I assume Republicans can embrace.
And to that I say, why the hell not?
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