THE HUTCHINSON REPORT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
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President Donald Trump will again sneer at Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris as, take your pick, “mad,” “nasty,’ “vicious” and “disrespectful.” But most of all “angry.”
He has leveled these hackneyed epithets at Harris ever since Joe Biden named her as his running mate.
But her debate with Vice President Mike Pence will be special. There will be a big viewing audience. There will be heightened interest in it given the radically different philosophical, racial and gender contrast Harris poses to Pence. There will be Trump chomping at the bit to pounce — again, his COVID-19 affliction notwithstanding.
Pence, for his part, will come off as the calm, reasoned, low-keyed, steady at the wheel, knowledgeable policy wonk on the issues. He will take special care to make no personal attacks on Harris.
The idea is to reinforce the contrast of him as a leader people have confidence in and Harris, who is supposedly too quick to attack.
Trump’s offensive against Harris has been his usual blend of vile, hit below the belt, personal name-calling. Branding Harris as angry is at the center of this ploy.
The angry Black woman image is an ancient racial stereotype that’s been fanned in films, song and popular verbal put downs of Black women. They are labeled crude, hard, tough, quick to blow up and always disagreeable. The not-so-subtle implication is that they lack the alleged soft, dainty, feminine, refined qualities of white women.
Harris got her first taste of this offensive labeling during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She was tough, aggressive and challenging in questioning Kavanaugh. Other Democrats were, too.
However, they weren’t singled out as being obnoxious in their questioning as Harris supposedly was. There was little doubt then that if Harris were tabbed as part of a Democratic presidential ticket that she would be quickly tagged with the angry Black woman label.
Harris could smile, speak in a whisper and be the model of decorum on the campaign trail, but Trump would still find a way to sneak the stereotype in about her.
So let him, but when he does Harris must not get in the gutter with him. There’s absolutely no need for her to respond or feel the need to rebut every one of his lies, falsities and name calling.
Swapping insults with Trump is simply playing into his well-honed game of distraction, diversion and distortion. The added danger of the schoolyard mudslinging back and forth is that it gives Trump and the media more juicy and salacious ammunition for another titillating and distracting headline and sound bite.
Negativism feeds on itself. Harris gains nothing by shooting back at Trump “liar,” or “con man” when he insults her. That just brings a gotcha smile to Trump.
Harris’ main task is to sell herself as a leader with a thoughtful and pragmatic approach on the crucial issues of health care, criminal justice reform and education in her debate with Pence. This is what the relatively few, but possibly crucial, handful of voters who are undecided will be looking for in making their choice.
The angry Black woman slur certainly won’t hurt her with Black voters, especially Black women voters. They know this characterization is a lie and are offended by it. However, there are some Blacks still wary and even unforgiving of Biden for his backing of the Clinton crime bill, his trashing of Anita Hill and his opposition to busing.
Harris being a Black woman can soften this by hammering a fiery message to Black voters that she will be an impassioned advocate for criminal justice reform, massive funding and support for public education, jobs, and housing, and aggressively combat police abuse. In other words, deliver the 2020 version of Obama’s hope and change message to them.
Harris can stand the Trump angry Black woman smear on its head in another way. That is by continuing to put on display the sharp, informed, political skills and acumen on the issues that has moved her quickly up the political ladder. This is especially important for yet another reason.
Biden will be near age 80 on inauguration day, if he wins. Harris’ final task is to assure voters that if there is an age or health challenge or Biden elects to serve only one term, she has the experience and political savvy to quickly take the wheel of governing.
Strong, tough, decisive, and yes, aggressive, are the exact qualities that voters and millions of Americans want and expect in their leaders. If that’s what Trump brands as anger in Harris, then so be it. Harris should embrace it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “What’s Right and Wrong with the Electoral College” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.