On any level, President Donald Trump’s “listening session” to mark Black History Month was an unenlightened hot mess.
When Trump read from the sheet of paper in front of him, he did so with the confidence of an unsure student delivering a book report in front of the class. When the president veered off that single-page lifeline, he betrayed stunning ignorance. Frederick Douglass, anyone? Or how about the reference to Thomas Jefferson? A Founding Father and the third president of the United States, he was also the owner of slaves and had six children with one of them, Sally Hemings. At the start of Black History Month, it probably would have been better to just not mention him at all.
But what made the car wreck in the Roosevelt Room of the White House all the more rubber-necky was who was in the room. To the president’s left was Ben Carson, a Trump punching bag during the primaries, now his secretary-designate of housing and urban development. And to his right was Omarosa Manigault, “Apprentice” alum, communications director for the White House office of public liaison and the person I’m told who organized the session.
During an interview with me on MSNBC in 2015, when I asked Omarosa if she would vote for Trump, she said, “I’m a die-hard Democrat. Come on. I’ve got Hillary Clinton tattooed on my left arm.” So much for that. But it makes what happened at the White House on Wednesday all the more interesting.
With the exception of Carson, a sweetheart of movement conservatives, not one person at the table was a black Republican of national stature. It’s not like they don’t exist. The GOP is filled with history-making members, none of whom was mentioned by Trump or even in the room.
Where was Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina? He’s the first African American elected from the South since Reconstruction. He’s the only black Republican in the Senate and the first since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. In 1966, Brooke was the first African American ever popularly elected to the Senate. He served until 1978.
Where was Rep. Will Hurd of Texas? He won a surprise victory in his majority Hispanic district in 2014 and won reelection last November. According to the Texas Tribune, Hurd became “the first incumbent to hold onto the Texas 23rd District in eight years.”
Where was Rep. Mia Love of Utah? She’s only the first African-American Republican woman elected to Congress and the first black person to ever be elected to the body from that overwhelmingly white and conservative state.
Where was Michael Steele? The former lieutenant governor of Maryland is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and was also the first African American to lead the GOP. Or how about former representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma?
The table could have been filled out with others, such as former HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson; Kay Cole James, former director of the federal Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush; Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King; and Star Parker, the conservative founder of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. And do I even need to mention former secretary of state, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and general Colin Powell?
But this is what happens when a lifelong Democrat plans the Republican president’s Black History Month event. One’s display of ignorance about the history of African Americans in the GOP was only outmatched by the other’s stunning ignorance of the history of blacks in the country he leads.