Donald Trump’s African American Museum Visit Good While The Cameras Are Rolling

It’s a day late and a dollar short. Donald Trump should expect to be trolled when he visits the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Tuesday during Black History Month.

President Donald Trump visited the African American Museum flanked by Security Service, his daughter Ivanka Trump, his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development pick Ben Carson, and Senator Tim Scott. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s director, gave the president a guided tour of the facility, according to CNN.

Noticeably absent was a Republican delegation accompanying President Donald Trump during his historic trip to the African American Museum. There was no John McCain, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and other GOP elders present to show solidarity for the president.

Instead, Trump had the obligatory cast of surrogates and family members — with a lone black lawmaker from South Carolina.

President Donald Trump walks past an exhibit for Dr. Ben Carson. [Image by AP Photo/Evan Vucci]

The president’s visit to the African American Museum was under and hour, and by his own admission, Trump said he could “stay much longer” and will return at some date in the future.

From prepared remarks, Trump mentioned the recent anti-Semitic attacks and contributions of African Americans. He said there is more work to be done to “root out hate, prejudice and evil” of all types.

Furthermore, Trump made a pledge to do more to address crime in inner cities. In his defense, he acted presidentially and it was a pleasant reprieve from hearing his morning rant on Twitter.

Reportedly, Trump was on schedule to visit the museum on the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday (MLK Day) but pulled out “due to scheduling issues and it was not fully planned out.” However, during a live CNN broadcast, journalist Joe Johns said the museum visit was “nixed” due to Secret Service concerns over security.

Donald Trump near Muhammad Ali exhibit at African Americn Museum
President Donald Trump tours the National Museum of African American History and Culture. [Image by AP Photo/Evan Vucci]

This rings similar to a previous occasion when, during his campaign, he declined an invitation to speak at the Cincinnati, Ohio, convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), according to the Washington Examiner.

NAACP President Cornell Brooks expressed concern at Trump’s response, especially since he was a short distance away from the venue.

“Mr. Trump has declined our invitation so we will hear from Secretary Clinton, we won’t hear from Mr. Trump,” Brooks told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “[T]he explanation given was they’re holding their convention at the same time. We, of course, are in Cincinnati, they’re in Cleveland. We were hoping that he would make the short trip from Cleveland to Cincinnati.”

David Chalian, CNN’s political director, recalled Donald Trump’s previous comments last week during a press conference, where he touted his large support from the African-American community.

Chalian said he thinks that while the move is important for a sitting president to send a positive message of healing, Trump’s visit is likely due to “optics” than anything else.

Bear in mind that this is the same president who, during a presser last week while fielding a question from black journalist April Ryan, asked if she (not his staffers) could set up a meeting with him and the Congressional Black Caucus, according to a Politico report.

“When you say the inner cities, are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, inner city agenda?” Ryan asked.

“Well, I would, tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked.

“I’m just a reporter. I know some of them,” Ryan responded.

“Let’s go, let’s set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus,” Trump continued.

Later, after a backlash from the public for Trump suggesting that all blacks know one another, Ryan took to Twitter and denounced the president’s remarks during the press conference.

“I am a journalist, not a convener! But thank you for answering my questions.”

I’m reminded of how then-candidate Trump referred to African-American voters as “The Blacks” as if they are a category or commodity.

Donald Trump’s visit to the African American Museum in Washington comes on the heels of public outcries over his lack of condemnation over a rash of anti-Semitism. As reported by multiple sources, including CNN, police in various locations are investigating bomb threats and grave desecrations of Jewish mosques and cemeteries, respectively.

Ivanka Trump, who is married to a Jewish entrepreneur and advisor to the President, and First Lady Melania Trump have both made public statements of rebuke against religious intolerance.

Anchor Chris Cuomo hosted a panel that explored why Donald Trump had not taken a firm stand and has largely skated around the issue. Hillary Clinton also weighed in on the anti-Semitic attacks and implored Donald Trump to lead the charge against racism.

While the president mentioned the attacks briefly during his visit to the African American History Museum, as mentioned above, he has to offer more than sound bites and snippets of a speech prepared by White House staffers.

About the museum

“The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.”

Donald Trump can go to every backyard barbecue, every neighborhood carwash, every swap meet, have more photo ops with the Kanye Wests of the world, and talk about helping the African-American condition — from afar in the presence of a nearly all-white audience, mind you — but that won’t be enough.

It’s not about what he says. Rather, it’s what Trump does. He still has Steve Bannon, a white nationalist who runs Breitbart and is reportedly connected with the alt-right. He also has Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who came under fire during confirmation hearings for his alleged history of wrongly targeting and prosecuting blacks.

Those are the optics; those are the things that African Americans see when looking at images of Donald Trump visiting a museum that evokes so much emotion from past scars intermingled with heroic examples of overcoming bigotry.

In short, Donald Trump’s African American Museum visit is merely window dressing for the cameras, and it comes a day late and a dollar short.

Still, I’m hopeful that he can continue showing up outside of moments that compel his conscious to do so — just because it’s the next thing up at bat on his schedule.

[Featured image by Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images]