Juan Williams: Race-baiting Trump pushes everyone toward extremes

Juan Williams: Race-baiting Trump pushes everyone toward extremes
© Greg Nash

Condoleezza Rice, who served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, recently had this to say about race relations in the age of Trump:

“It sure doesn’t feel worse than when I grew up in Jim Crow Alabama,” she told NBC News. “So let’s drop this notion that we’re worse [at] race relations today than we were in the past…I think the hyperbole about how much worse it is, isn’t doing us any good. This country’s never going to be colorblind. We had the initial, original sin of slavery. It’s still with us.”

Rice is absolutely right.

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But as Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden compares Trump to George Wallace Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE discovered in brutal fashion last week, the once acceptable approach of seeking gradual progress on civil rights is now viewed by some as outdated.

The former vice president was taken apart by Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWhat to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much Biden compares Trump to George Wallace CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE (D-Calif.) in the second Democratic debate in Miami for his warmth toward southern segregationists of an earlier era in Congress. Harris also hit Biden for his opposition to a federal mandate to override local opposition to school busing.

Biden is getting support for his past strategies from older black leaders, including Rep. John LewisJohn LewisMedia cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain Graham: Every Republican president or nominee 'will be accused of being a racist' MORE (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon, and the top black Democrat in Congress, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).

But there is anger among young people on the black left at anyone ever failing to take a clear stand against racism at a time when President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE makes openly racial appeals to his nearly all-white base.

Who can forget Trump talking about “some very fine people on both sides,” as protestors took a stand against white nationalists in Charlottesville?

And there is no other logical explanation besides race-baiting for Trump’s shameful insistence that the Central Park Five are guilty of rape even though they were exonerated decades ago.

So it is no surprise that a June poll from Hart Research Associates found 89 percent of black Democrats and 63 percent of black Republicans and independents disapprove of Trump as president.

But there is more to being black in 2019 than constant rage at Trump.

And that is where Rice’s voice enters the conversation, along with Biden saying he is willing to defend his record on civil rights.

One tragic consequence of Trump’s brand of racial politics is that it makes it hard for anyone to say the nation has made progress on race. And it is hard to explain that some progress came in the form of gradual change.

President Obama got a taste of this in 2016 when a Black Lives Matter leader refused to come to the White House to meet with him.

“I could not with any integrity, participate in such a sham that would only serve to legitimize the false narrative that the government is working to end police brutality and the institutional racism that fuels it,” explained Aislinn Pulley.

Obama later responded in a speech critical of the Black Lives Matter movement for just “yelling” at political leaders while refusing to talk and make deals “because that might compromise the purity of your position.”

“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then to start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved,” he added.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMatt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' What to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch MORE had a similar experience in her 2016 campaign. She was hectored by some activists for her past support of tough crime legislation. They also wanted her to pledge to change “hearts and minds” to deal with racism.

“You can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it, who are going to say, ‘We get it, we get it. We are going to be nicer,’” Secretary Clinton told Julius Jones, another Black Lives Matter activist. "That’s not enough, at least in my book."

“I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate,” Clinton added.

Now some young activists are making reparations for slavery a litmus test for Democrats seeking the presidency, even though a Fox News poll in April showed 61 percent of the nation opposed, including 68 percent of whites and 36 percent of non-whites.

Last month, Coleman Hughes, a student at Columbia University, was booed when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee that black Americans have less need for “another apology” in the form of reparations for slavery than for more practical solutions with broader support across racial lines. He called for better schools, better healthcare, and a less punishing criminal justice system.

And guess what — there is support for Hughes’s positions among black Americans.

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The Hart Research poll found less support for reparations (49 percent) than for raising the federal minimum wage (72 percent) and better job benefits (71 percent) to “improve economic conditions for the Black community…a great deal.”

Among 14 policy proposals listed in the poll, the one with the least support from black Americans for providing a “great deal” of help was reparations.

David Leonhardt, a New York Times columnist, saw the poll as a “reminder that black Americans, as a group, don’t have the same political opinions as the most liberal parts of the Democratic coalition. On many issues, black Americans are more moderate – or perhaps more pragmatic.”

Can those black voices be heard in the age of Trump?

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.