When Jerome Barney realized that Donald J. Trump was going to be the 45th president of the United States, his mind raced like a Usain Bolt 100-meter sprint.
A veteran Republican Party member, local attorney and bullish entrepreneur, Barney is confident that Trump is a man who understands how to get black Detroit off the starting block and gold-medal bound: Create an environment for entrepreneurial opportunity and job growth.
“I don’t want nobody to give me nothing,” the bow-tie clad Barney, who is black, says, offering a familiar hook recorded by soul singer James Brown. “Open up the door and I’ll get it myself.”
On November 8, Trump scored a stunning victory over challenger Hillary Clinton. Clinton, a Democrat, earned 93 percent of the Detroit vote but failed to attract as many cast ballots as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Trump, therefore, won the state by a razor thin 13,000 votes.
Detroit and the White House: A historic look
Having a friend in D.C. can help a city like Detroit. During the 1960s, for example, only New York City brought home more bacon to fund housing and social programs than the Motor City, according to Thomas Sugrue in his seminal book The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Accordingly, black local residents have been tapped for positions in U.S. presidential administrations. John F. Kennedy, for example, appointed lawyers Hobart Taylor and Kermit Bailer to civil rights and housing posts within his administration. Lyndon B. Johnson named Detroit journalist Ofield Dukes as deputy director of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.
Moreover, Jimmy Carter tapped two high-ranking officials in the Coleman A. Young Administration, Dennis O. Green and William Beckham, to serve in his budget department and commerce department, respectively. Ronald Reagan identified William Bell, a Detroiter, to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1981; and George H.W. Bush called on former Wayne County sheriff William Lucas to head the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division in 1989. Both nominations, however, were pulled back after protests from civil rights organizations. William C. Brooks, a General Motors official and Detroit resident, was named by the Bush administration to serve as an assistant secretary of labor. Similarly, Bill Clinton called on Gloria Jeff, a Northern High School and University of Michigan graduate, to serve on the Federal Highway Commission. Portia Roberson, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, worked in the Barack Obama administration’s justice department.
Likewise, several blacks from Detroit have been nominated by U.S. presidents to serve as federal judges. They include: Wade McCree Jr., Damon J. Keith, Anna Diggs Taylor, Eric Clay and Denise Page Hood, current U.S. District Court chief judge. Hood was appointed to the court by Bill Clinton.
Similarly, media reports suggest that Detroit native and 2016 presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson could be slated for a Trump cabinet post as either Health and Human Services or Education secretary. Jerome Barney believes that Wayne Bradley, the State Director of African-American Engagement for the Michigan Republican Party, could be tapped for a post in the Trump Administration, too.
Detroit Republicans had a plan, now have “access”
A small group of Republicans from Detroit began meeting just after the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in September 2015. Barney attended the gathering and reported back to the Detroit group on his findings. His takeaway was not only could GOP win back the White House, but he also felt that blacks were positioned to play a role. Hoping to provide an audience for the eventual presidential nominee, they reached out to Bishop Wayne T. Jackson and several other evangelicals within the black community.
“Trump didn’t even attend (the Mackinac Republican Leadership conference),” Barney recalled. So we didn’t know that he would be the person. Some of us thought that he was a plant who would help (Hillary) Clinton win. I was a John Kasich guy.”
During the campaign, Trump offered a portion of his plan to the Detroit Economic Club where he railed against U.S. trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Obama-backed Trade Pacific Partnership (TPP). Meanwhile, the group continued to work its plan and scored a coup: Trump’s September visit, presentation and taped interview at Detroit’s Great Faith Ministries, which is led by Jackson. Several weeks later, Bradley hosted Donald Trump Jr. at the state party’s Detroit office.
Should blacks fear a Trump presidency?
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch NAACP, was as clear as a bell prior to the election: “Do not allow (Trump) to use us as leverage to be able to engage the African-American community. He is not speaking to our interests, he is not interested in us, he is interested in our vote.”
Trump, according to exit polls, earned about 8 percent of the black vote nationally (one percentage point higher than Republican Mitt Romney did in 2012); he secured about 29 percent of the Latino vote. In majority black Detroit, however, Trump scored only three percent of the total vote. His memorable campaign overture – in somewhat mocking tone – to the black community was “what in the hell do you have to lose?”
He, however, offered a more conciliatory fashioned statement after the votes were counted on Election Day: “Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division. To all Republicans and Democrats and Independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”
The next day, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank geared toward African Americans, along with the Latino Victory Foundation penned a letter to Trump’s transition team. They urge Trump to address the lack of diversity with respect to federal appointments.
“The White House appoints over 6,000 positions, of which about 1,600 are senior appointments. Collectively, these appointees manage over 2 million personnel, oversee budgets totaling over $3.5 trillion, and help set the policy agenda for our nation.”
Blacks and Latinos make up about 30 percent of the nation’s population, yet represented only 8.7 percent of federal government appointees during the final year of the George W. Bush Administration, according to the organizations.
During the campaign, Trump on occasion offered the standard GOP dogma about offering more school choice through charters, reducing the size of government, and implementing supply-side economics ideas. He, however, pledged very few, if any, concrete plans other than building a wall to keep illegals out of the country, ripping up NAFTA and dismantling Obamacare.
So how does black Detroit feel about him now?
“We’re in unchartered territory,” says Portia Roberson, appointee to Detroit mayor Mike Duggan. “We’re not really sure. We never get any real answers on where (Trump) stands on appointments and policies.”
Jerome Barney predicts, however, that a Trump presidency will be good for Detroit’s black community. Because the self-proclaimed billionaire won Michigan, Barney suggests, he, Wayne T. Jackson, Wayne Bradley and others have direct access to The Donald. He argues further that the relationship can be leveraged to create entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs for city residents, many of whom are black.
And in keeping with a political campaign cycle where upset down was often right-side up, Barney leans forward, smiles and recites Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the nation’s longest serving president – a Democrat.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”