WARREN, Mich. — Darryl Howard thinks Donald Trump “most definitely” played on people’s racial fears to get elected.
Nonetheless, he seriously considered voting for him. He only “reluctantly” cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton, he said, because his wife threatened to end their marriage if he didn’t. He was only half-kidding.
George Martin says Trump’s campaign was “almost exclusively” run on fear and insults. But he voted for and still supports the president.
Howard and Martin are young, urban and black, a demographic often treated as a monolithic bloc in politics and punditry. As a whole, this group is reliably Democratic. But Howard and Martin’s views on politics, race and President Trump are nuanced and defy easy stereotypes.
In the wake of Charlottesville, I sat down with Howard and Martin at the real estate agency where Howard works in Macomb Township, Mich.
Howard, 28, voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but backed Mitt Romney (who grew up in Michigan) four years later.
Martin, 28, supported Obama twice before voting for Trump in 2016. A former sailor, Martin backed Trump in part because of his pledge to strengthen the southern border and his promise to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose dismal standard of care he must endure every time he gets a medical check up.
Howard is disappointed by the way Trump has conducted himself as president and by his inability to get things done. Running a government isn’t like running a business, he said. “’The art of the deal’ does not apply to American politics. These are people’s lives. These are people’s livelihoods.”
Howard believes Trump’s character flaws have held him back as president, especially in handling issues of race. He said he doesn’t think Trump is a racist but thinks he’s racially insensitive. “It’s fair to say he’s insensitive about a lot of things. And race is one of them. But you know, he’s a 70-year-old man that you know lived through a time when black people weren’t equal to him.”
Two days after our interview, Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio after he was convicted of criminal contempt associated with his hardline tactics in combating illegal immigration. In sentencing, Arpaio faced up to six months in prison.
After learning about the pardon, Howard texted to tell me that his assessment of Trump needed to be amended: “Sooo remember when I said Trump wasn’t a racist…this pardoning of a racist guilts him by association.”
“The power of Trump,” Howard said during the interview, was that he could say racist or xenophobic things and get away with it like no one else could. Once Trump began calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers, Howard said, “he made it OK for his supporters to say it too.”
Howard believes Trump missed the mark in his response to the racial violence in Charlottesville. “As good as he was during the campaign at identifying people’s motivations and their emotions,” he said, “he absolutely missed the point in Charlottesville.”
One person was killed and 19 injured in that city on August 13 when car slammed into a group of counter-demonstrators at a white supremacist rally protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Trump responded by condemning the “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” of the protests. The use of the words “on many sides” drew swift rebukes across the political spectrum, including from Trump supporters.
Trump later said that some members of the protest were “very fine people” and criticized what he called the “very, very violent … alt-left.”
Martin said the moment should not have been used to draw moral equivalence between the two groups. Rather, it was “about having some respect for a woman who died at the hands of another citizen. … As the person who the country has to look to when we start to lose our way, he didn’t do a good job.”
On the monuments debate, Martin said, “I totally understand the importance of preserving history. These are public statues paid for by citizens that were erected years ago. And they’re just being toppled over by protesters because they’re upset with the history.”
Nonetheless, Martin said “that’s a very soft argument when you consider that this man led an army whose whole purpose was to defend a system that enslaved people.”
Howard and Martin agreed that the white nationalists have the right to protest. And they don’t think all Confederate statutes should automatically come down. They believe the matter should be a local decision. “I believe fully in the Democratic process,” Howard said. “It’s not always in our favor. But the way to deal with that is to get involved in it and change it from within.”
Contrary to some polls, Martin believes race relations are improving and said that the key to their continued improvement is for people to engage one another.
To my question on what Republicans can do to better reach black voters, he said they shouldn’t try to single out any demographic group specifically. The key, he said, “is just to be genuine. Our parents were raised [to] vote Democrat and don’t question it. They were taught to vote straight ticket. We were taught differently.”
If Republicans “appeal to the American people, period,” he said, they will appeal to blacks too.
Click to read the next story in the series, or share the article on social media.
© Washington Examiner 2017