On Saturday, President Donald Trump offered brief remarks at the opening ceremony in Jackson, Mississippi for the state’s new Civil Rights Museum.
The event was saddled with controversy that the organizers did not anticipate nor desire, as the president, distrusted by many black leaders, prompted prominent civil rights figures to boycott the opening ceremonies.
Trump avoided making any obviously atonal or offensive statements during his speech, but it was discordant to hear him laud the kind of pioneering voting rights activism featured in the museum, given both his administration and political party’s record on access to voting rights. The speech also took place against the backdrop of his “both sides” equivocation on violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, penchant for picking fights with people of color, and choice to use terms like “animals” when referring to an attacker who is a migrant or person of color.
Trump read from what appeared to be a prepared speech at a podium in an event space in the museum.
“The civil rights museum records the oppression and injustice inflicted on the African-American community, the fight to end slavery, to break down Jim Crow, to end segregation, to gain the right to vote, to achieve the sacred birthrights of equality here,” Trump said in the speech. There was some applause, and Trump looked up from his podium, appearing to comment on what he had just read.
“That is big stuff, that is big stuff — very big phrases, very big words,” he said, assumedly referring to the thematic breadth of ideals like equality, since “equality” is not a relatively long word. “Here we memorialize great men and women who struggled to sacrifice and sacrifice so much so that others might live in freedom.”
It was my great honor to celebrate the opening of two extraordinary museums-the Mississippi State History Museum & the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. We pay solemn tribute to our heroes of the past & dedicate ourselves to building a future of freedom, equality, justice & peace. pic.twitter.com/5AkgVpV8aa
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 9, 2017
This was the clip that Trump’s Twitter account chose to share with followers.
Shortly afterward, Trump relayed a brief summary of Medgar Evers’ life and work to register people to vote.
“Mr. Evers became a civil rights leader in his community,” Trump continued. “He helped fellow African-Americans registered to vote, organize boycotts and investigated grave injustices against very innocent people.”
This language is very different from the way that Trump talks about this era’s civil rights demonstrations. He has spent weeks assailing — with bad language — black players who protest politely and peacefully during the national anthem played before sports games. He also appeared to condone actual physical violence against Black Lives Matter protesters at his rallies during the 2016 campaign, remarking once that he’d “like to punch him in the face.”
But more than rhetoric, Trump’s administration has taken steps to make it even harder for people to vote than it already is.
The Trump Justice Department has reversed course and now advocates for a defense of Texas’ voter ID law, which is one of the strictest in the country. It also flipped its position on a legal fight over how easy it is for states to purge voters from the rolls. The mastermind behind Trump’s panel examining the extent of (almost non-existent) voter fraud secretly tried to make it easier for states to require proof of citizenship for voter registration.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump made clear he supported restrictive voter registration and ID laws and railed against what he said was an epidemic of illegal voting. And Trump’s Republican party was wildly successful at suppressing voters in key states last year, something that likely contributed to his narrow Electoral College victory.
The special U.S. Senate election next week is happening in a state which has made it harder and harder to vote in predominantly African-American and Latino communities.
— AL.com (@aldotcom) December 9, 2017
Last year, the state was well behind its own goals for how many it wanted to issue, and activists are concerned about how this will affect turnout in special elections like the one next week in Alabama.