On Thursday, Joe Biden’s campaign released an ad targeted at black voters comparing President Donald Trump to Bull Connor and other law enforcement officers who enforced segregation against civil rights protesters in the 1960s. This race-baiting attack echoes former President Barack Obama’s remarks at the funeral of civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Yet it also comes at a time when polls show increasing black support for Trump and after Biden has alienated black voters with rather notorious offensive statements.
The ad, first reported by the Associated Press and entitled “Better America,” attacks Trump without mentioning him by name. The ad juxtaposes footage from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s with recent footage of Black Lives Matter protests and the notorious white nationalist march in Charlottesville in 2017. It attempts to connect Trump’s efforts to protect federal property during recent riots to the likes of Bull Connor.
“The story of Black America is the story of America,” the narrator begins. “It’s the story of a people who have pushed this country to live up to its stated ideas, but Black people have always believed in the promise of a better America.”
“We must choose to fight for that better America,” the narrator continues. “And just like our ancestors who stood up to the violent racists of a generation ago, we will stand up to this president and say, ‘No more,’ because America is better than him.” At this point, the ad shows a picture of Donald Trump set against a picture of 1960s civil rights protesters, then replaces the picture of Trump with footage of the white nationalists in Charlottesville.
“So we choose to be bigger. We choose to be bolder. We choose to bring back justice, respect and dignity to this country. We choose Joe Biden to lead us all towards that American promise together,” the ad concludes.
Biden’s campaign is reserving airtime in 15 states, including swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and Iowa. This particular ad will air in every state and target specific audiences on networks with high black viewership such as BET and TV One.
Echoes of Obama
The ad pushes a longtime Democratic talking point that Obama used in his speech at the funeral of John Lewis.
“Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness, with our own eyes, police officers kneeling on the necks of black Americans,” Obama declared. During the civil rights movement, the segregationist Connor sprayed water hoses and sicced dogs on civil rights protesters. In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, then-Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) compared then-President George W. Bush to the segregationist cop. “George Bush is our Bull Connor,” he said.
Obama did not explicitly compare Trump to Bull Connor in that sentence, but in his very next sentence, he demonized Trump’s use of federal agents to defend the federal courthouse from riots in Portland, suggesting a connection between the horrific killing of George Floyd, Bull Connor’s attacks, and Trump’s defense of federal property.
“George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” Obama said. Gov. George Wallace (D-Ala.) vocally supported segregation. In his inaugural speech, he said, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” In 1963, he even defied federal officers by standing in front of the door of the University of Alabama in a failed attempt to prevent the university from integrating.
Trump is no Bull Connor
It seems rather ironic that Obama compared Trump’s dispatching of federal officers to Wallace, the governor most notorious for having opposed federal troops. Also, while Wallace attempted to prevent blacks from getting an education at a public school, Trump advocates for school choice, allowing students to take their public school dollars to whatever alternative school they choose to attend. This policy has most helped black students escape failing schools.
The Bull Connor comparison is also flatly ridiculous, if not absurd. Trump signed the First Step Act, which has allowed more than 3,000 inmates convicted for crack cocaine, most of them black men, to have their sentences reconsidered. Over 2,000 inmates have been released. Trump also posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion and the victim of a racially motivated prosecution.
Trump has also worked hard to help the black community. He has welcomed black Americans into the White House and celebrated their economic success. About a month after Trump took office, he met with the presidents of 100-plus Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He has elevated black and brown Americans to high positions in government: naming Ben Carson to HUD; naming Ajit Pai chairman of the FCC; hiring Omarosa Manigault Newman in the White House (who said Trump wasn’t racist before she accused him of being racist); and many more.
Under Trump, the black unemployment rate reached its lowest point in 17 years. Trump celebrated the low unemployment rate in his second State of the Union address, but Democrats did not rise to clap for this great achievement. Voters have said Trump is better for young black Americans than former President Barack Obama. Some leaders of HBCUs praised Trump as being “more responsive to our community” than Obama’s administration was. Robert Johnson, the first black billionaire, gave the president an “A+” on the economy.
Biden’s problems with the black community
Moreover, Joe Biden has his own problems with the black community. He appears to take black voters for granted.
Biden notoriously told The Breakfast Club host Charlemagne tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re voting for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” On Thursday — the same day Biden’s campaign launched the ad comparing Trump to Bull Connor — Biden said black Americans have no diversity of thought.
“What you all know but most people don’t know: Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community – with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” the presumptive Democratic nominee said.
Biden presents himself as a champion of the black community and relentlessly ties Trump to the white nationalists in Charlottesville — even though Trump clearly condemned white nationalists — but Trump is gaining support from black voters.
According to a recent Rasmussen poll, a slight majority of black likely voters approve of Trump. The president is more popular with black voters than he was in 2016. While black voters favor Biden by a wide margin, they do not support the former vice president to the same degree that they supported Hillary Clinton just before the 2016 election. Instead, they are moving toward Trump.
This does not mean Trump is likely to win the black vote in November, but it does suggest Biden cannot take black voters for granted.
While ads like this one aim to drive more black voters to turn out in November, they also insult the intelligence of black Americans. Trump is no Bull Connor and he is no George Wallace. Barack Obama knows this. Joe Biden knows this. But Democrats cynically believe that they can lie to the black community in order to win elections.
In November, black Americans have the chance to prove that Joe Biden should not take their votes for granted. They have a chance to prove that they have diversity of thought. They have a chance to show that they know Donald Trump isn’t Bull Connor. Here’s hoping they take it.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.