That Meeting Between Trump’s White House and HBCU Presidents Was Doomed Before It Began
By: Jared A. Loggins
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are in peril; crippled by, among many things, a system of unequal funding distribution at the state and federal level. HBCU administrators went to the White House last week keenly aware of this. They also know—or at least, they should know—that to enter a meeting expecting something noble and respectful, like a deep commitment to helping vulnerable Black institutions, is a pipe dream given this White House’s open hostility toward racial difference. The meeting was doomed before it began.
More than 100 HBCU officials attended the meeting, reluctantly driven to do so because of Trump’s insistence that the gathering would be ‘historic’. It was nothing of the sort.
Many in the HBCU community feigned public disappointment with what they see as cold opportunism on the part of the Trump Administration to one-up Obama. Others expressed a feeling of betrayal—mainly among students and alumni—who believe HBCU leaders should have steered clear in the first place. The resistance is a good indication of the public faith people have in Trump’s administration.
The meeting is a cautionary tale for all of us. Under what conditions should Black interest groups meet with Trump? And what, precisely, is required of those who see very clearly that this administration has only demonstrated acts of bad faith when it comes to addressing Black people? What is required, to put it bluntly, is resistance and mobilization? Why does Trump’s administration require nothing less than complete and total noncompliance?
For now, we only have hints that a Trump budget is likely to cut deep into public programs and services. Given his broad hostility to issues of race and difference and to public programs like the EPA, National Endowment for the Arts, and HUD, there is no reason to believe HBCUs will be exempt from these cuts. If secretary appointments matter here, Betsy Devos’s confirmation would seem to confirm his fundamental belief in privatization as the solution for all our education problems. As the new executive order notes at several points, he also seems to privilege private partnerships over federal support as the solution to the HBCU funding crisis. He is a neoliberal through and through.
Still there are fundamental reasons why Black interest groups shouldn’t be so quick to meet with Trump.
For starters: Trump never had a substantial HBCU plan to roll out to anyone (unlike his predecessor, his Democratic challenger, and her main primary opponent). This matters. Voters see a plan as a reflection of the candidates’ values; and as a benchmark to begin tracking whether or not the candidate will follow through.
There is valid criticism of the Obama Administration, for example, on the extent to which his administration could have done more to support HBCUs. But it was never a question about whether or not he supported HBCUs at all. He did. And therefore, those who rightly criticized him were doing so in the context of the agenda he laid out and acted on. Black people, particularly those invested in HBCUs, tracked his administration accordingly and held him to account when he failed. This will not be the case with Trump until, or rather unless, he somehow undergoes a metamorphosis and suddenly becomes the darling-child of decency, respect and the public good. Yea, no.
One could have reasonably expected disappointment prior to meeting with Trump in the White House, given his laundry list of disrespect aimed at Black folks in particular. The racist and xenophobic remarks coming from his campaign and his administration are not beside the point. They condition how we approach any policy proposal that speaks affirmatively to people of color.
On a fundamental level, when we meet with others, we hopefully insist upon a basic trust that they are listening to our claims; and that they value us as speakers. Trump has offered no demonstrable evidence that he does value Black folks as people with important things to say. Why else hasn’t he met with the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, or the National Urban League? Why hasn’t he reached out to orgs like the Children’s Defense Fund or to local civil rights groups in Chicago—a topic on which he has so much to say? I suspect he has nothing to offer that would not fly in the face of his demonstrated track record of total disregard.
Public resistance and mobilization against Trump’s presidency by those of us in the HBCU community and beyond seems reasonable given where things stand. Why? Because the values by which we should judge those in power ought not be bracketed in the course of our evaluation. All of his actions to date matter as constitutive features of his value-system. And if we go down the road of accepting marginal victories from an administration hostile to values, such as difference and racial justice, we may risk diminishing the power of our own values by simply going along.
We deserve more from any administration. And we can’t start lowering our values in order to meet a racist demagogue on his terms.
Photo Credits: YouTube
Jared A. Loggins is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta. He is currently a PhD student in Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.