President Donald Trump on Friday celebrated an unexpected decline in the unemployment rate in May with an appearance at the White House, where he also talked about “tremendous progress” made on a vaccine for COVID-19 and the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.
“George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that is happening for our country,” Trump said, an assertion that, as fact checkers say, lacked evidence. “A great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody.”
Here is a fact check of some of his other statements.
What Was Said
“Nobody has ever done for the black community what President Trump has done.”
False. Even assuming that Trump was just comparing himself to other presidents and not abolitionists and civil rights leaders, experts said his claim was profoundly ahistoric.
“This may well be the president’s most audacious claim ever,” said Michael K. Fauntroy, a professor of political science at Howard University. “Not only has he not done more than anybody else, he’s done close to the least.”
Earlier this week, Trump claimed on Twitter — also falsely — to have done more for black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. On Friday, Trump omitted even Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation and urged passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
Among modern presidents, the most significant legislative achievements arguably belong to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who shepherded the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. (Last year, the White House celebrated the passage of the Civil Rights Act as a “historic milestone.”)
Experts also pointed to an array of major contributions by other presidents. President Ulysses S. Grant sent troops to South Carolina against the Ku Klux Klan to protect the constitutional rights of freed black Americans during Reconstruction. President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order desegregating the armed forces. President Dwight D. Eisenhower enforced the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. President Jimmy Carter diversified the judiciary, and President Bill Clinton the executive branch.
In comparison, Trump pointed to his signing of the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill that made reforms to sentences in federal prisons; the inclusion in the 2017 tax overhaul of the Opportunity Zones program, which offer a tax break for investing in low-income communities; increased funding for historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs; and low unemployment rates for black Americans.
But all of these accomplishments, in their appropriate contexts, pale in comparison to the contributions of Lincoln and Johnson, experts agreed.
The First Step Act was the “the culmination of several years” of efforts and debate, according to the Congressional Research Service, and it fell short of goals set by a more expansive overhaul proposed in 2015.
The Opportunity Zones tax break has “fueled a wave of developments financed by and built for the wealthiest Americans,” The New York Times reported last year.
Federal funding for HBCUs has increased under Trump, but the program predates his presidency by decades, and funding is appropriated by Congress.
The unemployment rate for black Americans did reach 5.9% in May 2018, the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping records in 1972. But that was a culmination of a yearslong decline that began under President Barack Obama and started to increase before the coronavirus pandemic began. Moreover, Trump’s focus on the unemployment rate ignores other economic indicators like low rates of black homeownership and black male labor force participation rates that also remain low, Fauntroy said.
Overall, Trump can claim some credit for these accomplishments, said Alvin Bernard Tillery Jr., a professor of political science and African American studies at Northwestern University.
“He has one or two nice policy accomplishments where his signature is on the legislation,” Tillery said. “That’s a record that’s going to place him in the bottom third of modern presidents.”
In a 2017 study co-authored by Tillery that assessed modern presidents based on the analysis of editorials published in black newspapers, Johnson ranked at the top. While Trump was not yet included, as he had yet to complete his term, Tillery said the president “is not faring well” currently, with black editorial pages ranking him “at the bottom, just below Nixon,” at No. 15 out of 20 presidents.
Legislative achievements and executive policies aside, experts also pointed to the tenor of Trump’s rhetoric toward black Americans.
“I would say the only president who rivals Trump in terms of treatment toward African Americans is Andrew Johnson, the most explicitly racist president we’ve ever had,” said Eric Foner, a prominent historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction. “If I were him, I would not pursue this historical analysis any further.”
Trump also repeated numerous other claims The Times has previously fact checked:
— He misleadingly claimed to have ushered in the “cleanest air, the cleanest water we’ve ever had.” (America’s air is much cleaner than it was five decades ago after years of progress, but independent analyses have shown that air quality has declined under Trump’s watch.)
— He misleadingly claimed to have “stopped people very early on from China,” a decision made with the support of “almost nobody.” (The travel restrictions had many exceptions, followed similar actions by scores of other countries and was made on the advice of career health officials.)
— He falsely claimed to have been left “empty cupboards” of supplies for a pandemic. (The Strategic National Stockpile had more than $7 billion worth of supplies when he took office.)
— He misleading claimed that the United States had conducted more coronavirus tests “than anybody in the world.” (It still lags other countries in testing per capita.)
— He falsely said China “paid for” the cost of tariffs and that a “small fraction” of tariff revenue went to farmers hurt by his trade war. (The cost of tariffs are largely passed on to American companies and consumers. They have generated $53.4 billion in duties, as of June 3, while farmers have received about $28 billion in relief.)
— He exaggerated the trade deficit with China as $500 billion a year. (It was $307 billion last year.)
— He hyperbolically claimed to have “rebuilt the military.” (The military has been buying new equipment but continues to use old and aging equipment as well.)
— He again took undue credit for the Veterans Choice program, which he falsely said “they’ve been trying to get” for 50 years. (The program was created in 2014.)
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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