News Analysis

President Donald J. Trump, on June 24, said he doesn’t see the government giving reparations to descendants of black slaves, as some Democrats expressed some level of support for reparations.

When speaking to reporters from Hill.TV about reparations, President Trump said, “I think it’s a very unusual thing,” and “You have a lot of—it’s been a very interesting debate. I don’t see it happening, no.”

Reparations to African Americans is an issue that comes up every now and then, but not as much as expected—the last time a decade ago—it’s been tabled, for the most part—holding a long-lived existence in the discussion phase.

Are Reparations Likely?

But how likely is it that reparations will be given to descendants of African American slaves?

Consider that former President Barack Obama who is half African opposed direct reparations. Obama’s father was Kenyan, however, he does not have ties to American slavery via his paternal ancestry.

Ancestors of Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, were white landowners in Colonial Virginia. And research shows, Dunham’s ancestors descended from an African man who was one of the first slaves in the United States, according to

So why would a president who is of African and European ancestry oppose reparations?

Years ago, as a Democratic presidential candidate, Obama opposed offering reparations to the descendants of slaves, even putting him at odds with some black groups and leaders. He argued that government should instead combat the legacy of slavery by improving schools, health care, and the economy for all, reported the Daily News in August 2008.

Even before then, in a 2004 questionnaire, he told the NAACP, “I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say, ‘We’ve paid our debt,’ and to avoid the much harder work.”

In effect, during campaigning, Obama was likely avoiding pandering to a specific group, and so did not openly support reparations—not in direct payments and not via being only for African Americans.

When taking questions from minority reporters during his presidential run in 2008, the then-presidential candidate didn’t address reparations directly but instead spoke about creating programs that “will disproportionately affect people of color.”

”If we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they’re disproportionately uninsured,” said Obama.

“If we’ve got an agenda that says every child in America should get—should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it’s oftentimes our children who can’t afford to go to college,” he concluded.

Recent Reparations Rhetoric

Democratic primary presidential candidates have been discussing reparations since about February, and talks have intensified since.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) have called the issue important or acknowledged how history supports calls for restitution, according to Vox, a far-left media outlet.

Other Democratic politicians have talked about reparations.

The House held its first discussion in a decade, on June 19, on reparations for slave descendants, debating H.R. 40, which calls for a commission to “study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations,” reported Fox News.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.,) (L), talks with author Ta-Nehisi Coates, as he waits to testify about reparation for the descendants of slaves during a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, on June 19, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

Virtue as a Foundation

History has demonstrated the wisdom in a Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Take for example a story by African American lawyer, conservative political columnist, and media personality Larry Elder.

On his website, he wrote the true story of a “wealthy, idealistic philanthropist who was concerned about the future of urban—primarily black—youth. The patron adopted 112 inner-city sixth-graders, most from broken homes.

The patron promised the students that if they met minimal requirements, and graduated from high school, didn’t get pregnant or get someone pregnant, he’d pay for their education, including college tuition.

He provided tutors, workshops, after-school programs, and summer programs, as well as counselors. Thirteen years later, the patron followed up on the 112 youths.

The percentage going to college was no greater than the percentage of youth from similar backgrounds without prepaid educations.

Elder concluded, “The money was wasted.”

Through analysis, Elder believes “It’s not about money. It’s about values. It’s about discipline and application. It’s about character—about working hard when you don’t want to. And these values are instilled in the home.”

“The first step is the truth,” added Elder.

“As long as blacks feel and act oppressed, as if they are under siege and behind enemy lines, little will change. The formula is simple, but it requires effort: hard work wins; you get out of life what you put into it; you cannot control the outcome, but you are 100 percent in control of the effort. Go to school, study, work hard, arrive early, stay late, pay attention to detail, and be honest. That is the best “anti-poverty program” ever conceived.

Trump Presidency

With the above in mind, President Trump’s small comment on reparations leaves a lot of speculation to what exactly he might mean. He doesn’t outright say he opposes or supports reparations, he said he doesn’t see it happening.

Meanwhile, the president’s actions fill in the blanks where his words fail.

The president has been proactive and vocal about creating jobs for every American, yet it is up to employers to give people from all races and backgrounds a chance at their jobs. That seems to be what’s happening.

Over 5.8 million people are no longer on food stamps since President Trump first took office in January 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) released earlier in June shows there were 42,132,132 people getting food stamps in February 2017. The number of recipients decreased by nearly 6 million to 36,302,242 registered participants in 2019.

This coupled with job growth for minorities—it’s no secret black and Latino unemployment rates reached record lows during President Trump’s presidency.

Despite unemployment rates being low, job growth continues steadily. “The U.S. economy is adding jobs at a solid clip nearly a decade into what’s already the second-longest postwar economic expansion on record,” according to MarketWatch.

There were 5.4 million new jobs created under President Trump.

The USDA Household Food Security in the United States 2017 report released in September 2018, states that in 2016, 12.3 percent of people were food insecure and that went down to 11.8 percent in 2017, and household food hunger also decreased for the same time period.

Pandora’s Box

Perhaps the biggest argument that clearly defines why reparations have been tabled for years lies in the side effects that would come about if reparations were to be implemented.

Endless debate: Who would qualify?

There are various groups that have suffered under slavery in the United States.

 What about those of mixed race? Who would determine the percentage and rates?

Plus, reparations may disincentivize work, according to a business writer for The Atlantic. How long would reparations benefits last? For how many generations into the future?

How would it be determined who and which family has suffered more from past slavery? What are the indicators? Would it be fair to say that a black family that is now rich suffered less in the past than a black family that is now poor?

And the list goes on.

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