As I have watched Donald Trump throughout this campaign, I have often found it difficult to compliment him on much of anything he does. In the past week, however, I must admit that he has done something that I found to be particularly commendable and, sadly, unique among politicians on the Right in this country – direct outreach, ham-fisted as it was, to impoverished minorities in America. He did what no recent right-wing candidate has done: he explicitly pointed out the miserable failure of progressives to make even modest progress against urban poverty. After the New Deal, the Great Society, the Affordable Care Act, and dozens of other programs since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the poor in the United States are finding it as hard as ever to escape poverty. Poor minority communities are faced with a cyclical epidemic of broken schools, broken homes, a lack of economic opportunity, and lifetimes of government dependence.
The fact that these circumstances have existed and, indeed, flourished for so long in the face of such an exhaustive $22 trillion fight on the part of the federal government against poverty is a national tragedy. It is, however, a tragedy that has been enabled in no small part by the absence of the policies and principles that stand to have a profoundly positive impact on these communities. In other words, the absence of any strong or focused effort to court poor minority communities on the part of conservatives has allowed progressive politicians and institutions to entrench themselves into the cultural and political fabric of these communities.
Consider this: How is it possible that in 2012, 93% of black voters pressed the button for President Obama, a man under whose administration African-Americans experienced 14% unemployment in that year? Similarly, why did 71% of Latinos vote for the President in the face of a 10% unemployment rate? And how can it be that in 2012, in 59 very heavily black Philadelphia voting precincts, Mitt Romney lost by a combined margin of 19,605 to zero?
After over half a century of progressive policy failure, these communities appear to be as far as ever from lending their support to the leaders and policies that could actually help them.
Having grown up in Allentown, PA, a struggling city with a majority-minority population consisting primarily of Hispanics, I can say from personal experience that by the time many of the city’s residents reach voting age, they are likely to have never met a conservative, never mind know what one is. And why should they? From the failing schools to the broken families, the average Allentown resident, like the resident of almost any struggling city in America, is bereft of virtually any medium or life experience that could deliver a conservative outlook.
The consequences speak for themselves: generation after generation of poor Blacks and Hispanics growing up without opportunity, without hope, and without any new ideas of what to do about it.
It’s time conservatives across this country seized on this.
In 2012, Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan lobbied the Romney campaign to let him travel into some of these impoverished urban communities to talk about poverty. Needless to say, the idea was dismissed by the Romney campaign. As one advisor later said, “The issues that we really test well on and win on are not the war on poverty.”
Not to sound cliché, but is this really the concern? Focus groups? Many on the Right seem to be under the impression that even the most superficial incursions into these areas are a waste of time. After all, why waste time talking to poor, blighted, crime-ridden communities when there are young, single, college-educated women to be brought into the ranks? But such a narrow-minded view of politics, which sees communities and groups just as voting blocs, ought to be thoroughly rejected by conservatives.
I believe that there are two very important reasons why we, as conservatives, should apply ourselves to the task of relieving urban poverty.
The first is because we have a moral obligation to do so. If we honestly believe that progressive policies have destroyed these communities, and we believe that our policies and principles can revitalize these communities, then we must be willing to get out of our comfort zone to spread our policies. Furthermore, I can think of few issues where the conservative movement has a more perfect opportunity to seize the moral high ground from the progressives. From destroying opportunity and cultivating dependence, to sowing bitterness and racial strife, perhaps nothing has been as bad for the urban poor as the advent of American progressivism and socialism. Conservatives, therefore, should seize the moral high ground on this issue and strike at the heart of the constituencies which the Left has taken for granted for so long. Yes, the Left will call us nasty names if we try, but that just means we have touched a nerve.
In addition to a moral obligation, however, it is increasingly important from a political standpoint that the conservative movement try to broaden its base. With the rise of Donald Trump and the populist-nationalist and alt-right movements, the standing of “Movement Conservatism” as it has been called seems increasingly tenuous, both within the American political discussion and within the Republican Party. Even despite something of an intellectual rebirth among conservative millennials, the viability of the movement as we know it has not been this deep into the political wilderness in decades. It therefore seems increasingly important that conservatives make use of our time in the wilderness and take immediate steps to broaden our base.
Additionally, reaching out to these communities may not be as difficult as one might expect. With this kind of bold outreach comes a unique opportunity for the conservative movement to return to its basic roots in growth, opportunity, strong families, individualism, etc. This is because unlike, say, many young middle-class voters who can be easily swayed with promises of “free” higher-education, the voters in poor urban communities are somewhat inoculated against bogus promises from certain septuagenarian socialists. It is not because they believe in the promises of the Left that they vote for their leaders; 70 years of failure has taught them that they are not to be trusted. It is that they simply have not been presented with a better option, or, at least, a better option that fits into the worldview and life experience of someone who has grappled with the various crises surrounding urban poverty throughout a lifetime.
And so, this is my plea to the Conservative Movement. Imagine a new conservative renaissance in our urban centers. Imagine thousands of single-mothers speaking out in favor of a new way forward for their sons and daughters that offers opportunity, choice in education, and revitalization of a desperately broken urban culture. Imagine too, countless African-American and Hispanic youths rejecting the Left’s soft bigotry of low expectations and championing the very promise of America that so many young middle-class whites have come to reject.
Yes, this is certainly a lofty vision. And I am certainly not under the illusion that conservatives can win over a majority in these communities any time soon. But it is my sincere belief, born of personal experience, that with the concerted effort of thousands of conservative leaders, intellectuals, and activists on all levels, profound changes can occur in the hearts and minds of those trapped in poverty in America’s inner cities.