Rev. Al Sharpton, Contributor, The Huffington Post
President and Founder, National Action Network
Today, President Trump toured the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where he was shown everything from slavery to the present day – depicting both the ugliness in our past and the progress that we have achieved. As one who has toured the museum (and even has two or three photos in it), I have taken great pride in attending events there and showing people various parts of this unusually important institution. My immediate reaction to Trump’s visit was cynical; that it’s just a photo op, and it’s a way for him to get by some of his policies that are clearly bigoted and exclusionary. But on the other side, it is good that he went and at least saw some of the history that makes many of us look at him through the eyes of people that have felt trumped all of their lives and the lives of their forefathers. The real question now is, how will the Trump era be viewed in that museum?
We are a little over a month into Trump’s Presidency, and there are many unanswered questions as to how he will proceed when it comes to issues impacting our communities. As the President immediately following Barack Obama – the first African American President – will Trump want to be in that museum as the one who reversed progress like unemployment being cut in half for Blacks, or implementation of the Affordable Care Act that disproportionately helped Blacks? Will he want to be the one who turns back from an emphasis on criminal justice reform, including police reform and Obama’s commutations of low-level offenders more than the last 11 Presidents combined? Does he want to be remembered as the President that removed protection of voting rights and instead tried to reverse it with more suppression tactics like voter ID laws?
President Trump should keep in mind today and going forward that he will be in that museum one day alongside others. He can go down surprising everyone by continuing to ensure that the arc is bent towards justice, or he can be another one who tried to bend the arc back in the wrong direction. Will he be the first President in modern history that didn’t meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, or heads of major civil rights organizations (even though they may be critical of some of some of his policies)? He should reflect on the Museum of African American History and Culture and realize that the corridor of history is longer than an election cycle.
Black history is American history. Trump should realize that he cannot only look at black history, but that he will be in it. Question is, what will the exhibit say? Neither he nor I will live to be around years from now to call a critical appraisal of fake news. What Trump should do is use this visit to reverse fear and change historic profile for the better. Visiting this remarkable museum is a sobering experience that reminds people how we must never allow horrific aspects of our history to repeat, and also how we must continue to work towards justice and equality so that future generations will never witness the kinds of challenges that we endured. It is up to this President to decide whether he wants to stay the course of progress or not.
I just have one simple message to Trump: history’s record of you will remain a lot longer than last night’s tweet.