When President Donald Trump announced plans to attend the grand opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on Saturday, it quickly kicked up a political firestorm. The NAACP called for Trump to skip the event, writing that the president’s “statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement.” Several black lawmakers who had planned to attend publicly weighed avoiding the president. One, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., announced that he would not go.
The White House responded.
“We think it’s unfortunate that these members of Congress wouldn’t join the president in honoring the incredible sacrifice rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement — without recognizing that Lewis himself is a civil rights leader who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid-1960s.
The White House statement also seems to cordon off skepticism about Trump’s visit to a small group of black leaders. That’s almost certainly not the case.
This week, Quinnipiac University released a new poll that included a question about Trump’s attitudes toward people of color. Most respondents — 57 percent — said they did not believe that Trump respects people of color as much as he does white people. Among whites, 50 percent held that view. Among black Americans, the number was 86 percent.
Last month, The Washington Post and ABC News asked a similar question specifically about black Americans.
Half of respondents said that Trump was biased against black people. Three-quarters of black respondents held that view, as did three-quarters of Democratic respondents. Well over half of the respondents from those two groups said they strongly believed he is biased against black people.
In both polls, women were more likely than men to say that Trump held a bias against black people (or that he respected people of color less). The Post’s poll asked whether people thought that Trump was biased against women; a larger percentage of the total (and a larger percentage of women) said they believed he was.
This is not necessarily a new attitude among Americans. The Post asked in a September 2016 poll whether people felt that Trump was biased against women and minorities. Sixty percent of respondents said they thought he was.
A separate poll from Suffolk University the same month - a few weeks after he unveiled his “what do you have to lose” pitch to black voters - asked the question more starkly: Is Trump racist? A minority of Americans - 44 percent - said that he was, but 83 percent of black Americans did. Seven percent of Trump’s own supporters thought he was racist.
That is the broader environment surrounding Trump’s planned visit to the museum in Mississippi. Trump has done little over the course of his presidency to convince those who think him biased that he is not - such as the aftermath of the rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. Showing up at the opening of a civil rights museum might understandably be seen as an attempt to simply check a box on an issue on which Trump is perceived poorly.
Late on Friday night, the White House announced a change to Trump’s itinerary. Instead of appearing at the public ceremony, he would speak at a private event.