Op-Ed

Michelle Obama is one black woman Trump would be wise to leave alone

What is the president’s problem with strong black women? And does he have the restraint to not pick a feud with the former first lady? Sophia A. Nelson weighs in

President-elect Donald Trump greets then-First Lady Michelle Obama during the Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)

Here we go again.

The President of the United States of America is in hot water with black women — a constituency that has pretty much abandoned the Republican Party over the past 25 years, and which, ironically, used to be reliably Republican in the 1950s, the days of President Dwight Eisenhower (my grandmother’s GOP). In 2018 America, however, this group is now the cornerstone and backbone of the Democratic Party. Exit polls showed upwards of 95 percent of black women voted for President Obama in 2008 and they voted in similar numbers for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

So, I get that in the president’s mind this group is not part of his base. As a voting bloc, black women simply don’t matter to him. Therefore, he does not have to care how he talks to them or about them publicly. That is just wrong, and I could not disagree more. As a lifelong moderate Libertarian Republican (or RINO as the conservatives in my party now call us), I want the president and others in the GOP to know that they should not pick fights with or otherwise attack black women — individually or as a group. It is not a good political strategy for a president who has so openly attacked black female lawmakers like Maxine Waters and Frederica Wilson, calling Waters a “low IQ person” and Wilson “Wacky” More importantly, it is not a good look for a president who called his only high-ranking black female aide, Omarosa Manigualt Newman, “that dog” after she was fired from her White House job and released a tell-all book about the president titled Unhinged.

Trump’s worst condemnations seem to be continually targeted at black women. Over the course of two days last week, Trump directed his toxic ire at three high-profile black women journalists, all of whom cover the White House. (Full disclosure: I know all three of them and am proud to call them sister.) He denounced veteran White House reporter April Ryan, declaring she’s “a loser.” When Washington Post reporter Abby Phillip asked the president a question about his interim replacement for vanquished Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his response, a finger wagging, was: “What a stupid question that is … But I watch you a lot — you ask a lot of stupid questions!” And when NPR’s Yamiche Alcindor asked Trump during a press conference about his embrace of the term “nationalist,” the president fired back, “that’s a racist question.”

President Donald Trump insults Washington Post reporter Abby D. Phillip prior to departing for Paris, France from the South Lawn of the White House for in Washington, U.S., November 9, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

And as if all of that wasn’t enough, he found himself facing questions about former first lady Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated memoir Becoming in which she takes direct aim at Trump for starting the “birther” movement in 2011. In the book, Michelle Obama writes, “The whole thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed. But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this I’d never forgive him.”

When Trump was asked to respond to that passage, he avoided a pointed response to the first lady, telling reporters, “She got paid a lot of money to write a book and they always expect a little controversy,” and then took a swipe at former President Obama.

Trump is guilty as charged of pushing the racist theory suggesting that President Obama was born in Kenya, rather than in Hawaii, and was ineligible to be president. The accusations gained steam with the help of Trump’s Twitter feed, some right-wing book writers like Jerome Corsi, who repeated calls for Obama to release his birth certificate and his college admissions records. Trump at one point claimed to have seen the president’s birth certificate himself, which he said would back up his claims, although he never released the purported proof he claimed to have obtained. Ultimately, while running for president, Trump had to recant his words and admit he was wrong.

Here’s the point: We, as a country, have to face the fact that our sitting president has a problem with women, and specifically with strong, smart, independent black women. He is dismissive, mean and disrespectful of these women in a very ugly way, a manner more caustic than how we have seen him go after white women. Although, when asked about her forthcoming memoir last week, Trump pointedly side-stepped clapping back (as the kids say) at the former first lady — and instead took aim at her husband, former President Obama. I am certain that this modicum of restraint will not last long.

The challenge for Trump, however, is whether he wants to get into a public rift with a very popular former first lady? What is the political and cultural cost for Trump if he attacks Michelle Obama? I argue that there is none. Trump the self-declared “nationalist” — one word short of “white nationalist,” rhetoric that is inspiring that ugly faction in our country and leading to the whitening of the GOP — taking on Michelle Obama may yield some benefit with his base. But be clear, after France, and the spectacle he made of himself on the world stage last week, and the beating the GOP took with white women (really, all women) at the polls on November 6th, Trump is on shaky ground with the rest of us. He would be wise to leave that black woman alone.

Sophia A. Nelson, Esq. is an award-winning author and journalist. She is author of the global best-selling book, The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life (2014). Follow her on Twitter here.

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