For people driving along I-240, and especially for those who aren’t from around here, understand this: Despite what’s assailing your eyes on billboards, Memphis doesn’t love President Trump.
In fact, it’s a safe bet that most of Memphis despises him.
We know this because during the 2020 presidential election, Trump won just more than 30 percent of the vote here in Shelby County. That support, however, mostly came from the suburbs – which means voters who live in this city, a place where nearly 65 percent
of the residents are Black, resoundingly rejected him.
But seeing how Trump tried to overturn an election in which Black voters in major cities provided the edge in ejecting him from the Oval Office, and whose cries about the election being stolen by said Black people provoked hordes of his supporters to ransack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, what’s another lie in the life of this liar and his handlers?
Yet this lie is particularly insulting on a couple of levels.
First of all, Trump’s appearance, billed as the American Freedom Tour, is happening at The Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, in DeSoto County where he received 61 percent of the vote. Yet Southaven isn’t mentioned on any of the billboards, at least not those in Memphis.
What’s more is that the tour commercials say that Trump is coming to Memphis, not Southaven.
But Southaven Trump voters are the ones who love him. Yet he or his handlers – who didn’t respond to my phone calls – didn’t even think enough of them to acknowledge their love.
Meaning that Trump’s people apparently value Memphis’ brand over Southaven voters’ loyalty. On that alone, they should feel insulted. It’s like he’s showing off the wife but treating them like the side chick.
But they probably won’t.
What resonates worse, however, isn’t just Trump’s perversion of facts and truth, but his perversion of what freedom means. And he’ll likely push that perversion this Juneteenth weekend when, 157 years ago, enslaved people learned that they had been freed.
That freedom ultimately led to Black people becoming citizens, with the full rights of citizenry – which include the right to vote and to have their votes counted.
But when Trump speaks of freedom, or of “taking America back,” what most of his supporters hear is that Black people who dared to vote him out of office pose a threat to their “freedom.”
It’s a freedom that they define as being free to ignore the results of elections, or to accept baseless conspiracies as fact, if Black people caused their preferred candidate to lose.
So, they cling to fiction.
Nonetheless, that tale has been unraveling before millions of viewers during the Jan. 6 commission hearings. Trump’s closest people, such as his former attorney Bill Barr, revealed that the former president was increasingly “detached from reality,” and was told repeatedly that his claims of fraud had no basis in fact, but that Trump wasn’t interested in the truth.
Instead, Trump continued to push the lie and to even raise money from it. A video presentation during the second day of the hearings showed how he and his aides used claims of election fraud to bilk supporters out of some $100 million for an “Election Defense Fund.”
A committee investigator, however, said no evidence of such a fund exists.
Scarier still is that many people continue to embrace Trump’s charges because of the racism that undergirds it. After he incited his followers to riot at the Capitol, Trump has since embarked on rallies where he has doubled down on fueling white resentment.
Among other things, he has alleged that the Black prosecutors who are investigating him, N.Y. Attorney General Leticia James and Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis, are racist, and implored his followers to revolt if they do something “illegal.”
Such rhetoric plays into the Great Replacement Theory, which is often touted by anti-immigration groups and which
apparently led Payton Gendron, who is accused of slaughtering 10 Black people with an AR-15 rifle in Buffalo last month, to commit his carnage.
It resonates as a sick joke that on a holiday on which Black people celebrate
their freedom from slavery, a man who whips into a frenzy crowds who resent their freedom into a frenzy is bringing his show to Mississippi and saying he’s coming to Memphis.
“It may have dawned on me, after we finished discussing it, that it’s Juneteenth that he’s coming here…,” said Memphis City Councilman Martavius Jones who, along with Councilman JB Smiley Jr., pushed a resolution, which ultimately failed, to prevent the Memphis Police Department from providing security to Trump in Southaven.
“I mean, of all people, and of all times…it’s extra [insulting]…”
The fact that Trump, or his handlers, is misrepresenting how Memphis feels about Trump promoting his tour mirrors how he and his supporters have no qualms about reducing Black people to invisibility.
We saw that when Trump and his associates pressured Vice President Mike Pence to toss the election results and negate Joe Biden's victory.
But even as Trump exploits the brand of a majority-Black city to attract racists who revel in how he gins up resentment toward them, Telisa Franklin III, CEO of Memphis Juneteenth, said his appearance next door won’t dampen Memphis’ joy.
As it shouldn’t.
“I’m super spiritual, and I feel like the enemy will put things in the way to get you off track and off focus,” Franklin said. “I saw the [Trump] billboards all around the city and it just made me want to work harder to make Juneteenth the best celebration ever.
“We have to continue the fight and we have to continue the message of unity…”
Even as Trump drives one of disunity.