Houston Voter Reflects On His Changing Opinions Of President Trump
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A couple years ago, I was here in Houston. It was right before the 2018 midterm elections. In the NFL at the time, Colin Kaepernick and other players had been kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality and injustice. I was reporting on how those protests were dividing local communities. President Trump had been lambasting the NFL players. And all of this became part of the culture wars.
On that trip here, I met John Barrett. He's the great grandson of the freed slave who founded the small town of Barrett, just outside Houston. Back then, Barrett was giving President Trump credit for uncovering racial divisions in our country.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
JOHN BARRETT: I commend him for it. He pulled the cover off of all of it. I thank him.
GREENE: Why do you thank him?
BARRETT: He exposed it.
GREENE: Why did it need to be exposed?
BARRETT: People of color have been saying they've been mistreated for years, and people dismiss it. Oh, you're pulling the race card. Oh, that's really not happening. Oh, this - oh, that. Well, it did.
GREENE: Do you want Trump to keep...
BARRETT: No, I don't want the stirring to continue at all. Now that he's done it and shown it, he needs to become a uniter.
GREENE: Do you see that happening?
BARRETT: He could do it.
GREENE: Do you see Donald Trump doing it?
BARRETT: I would like for him to do it. I would love to see him become a uniter now. He's shown us. Now fix us.
GREENE: And if you see Trump doing the kinds of things you're talking about in the next two years, could you see supporting him in...
GREENE: What if you're wrong? What if...
BARRETT: Do you mean, what if he's a blatant racist?
BARRETT: What if he's truly a blatant racist? He says he's not, but then they all do. But at the same time, God will deal with him, won't he? He'll be dealt with by God.
GREENE: So that was two years ago. This is a different moment. After George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, there have been worldwide protests. There have been calls for reimagining police forces, and there have been difficult conversations about race and discrimination. I wanted to know if John Barrett still sees President Trump as a potential uniter and whether he might still consider supporting him. I went back to see Barrett on his family estate. We sat in a couple rocking chairs on the front porch right at sunset, just 40 miles away is where George Floyd would be laid to rest.
BARRETT: The black man is being hunted. We're being hunted - hunted down like animals.
GREENE: This is something Barrett's dad prepared him for.
BARRETT: When I was 15 years old and I was learning how to drive, my father told me - and this is - these were his words - when your head is in the lion's mouth, You have to act accordingly, and you view all police officers as the lion. That meaning - yes, sir; no, sir. That's it. And in his particular case, it's almost as if they saw this big, hulking man, and from observation, it just appeared as though they wanted to take him down.
GREENE: But, actually, it was the incident in New York's Central Park a couple of weeks ago that rattled him the most. Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper, an avid birder who is black.
BARRETT: The Karen in Central Park is the one that shocked me. That's not getting enough traction. I found that more alarming 'cause we accustomed to the police killing black men. But to see a female consciously knowing what she was doing - she consciously knew she had the power to get this man killed. That one troubled me more so than the other.
GREENE: With that, we turned to the president.
So here we are. He did what you said might be a painful but good thing for the country, and you said that he had the chance to then...
BARRETT: Unite us.
GREENE: Unite the country.
BARRETT: If your heart's not right, you can't do it, can you?
GREENE: You've lost the faith in him that you had?
BARRETT: What happened the other day in front of the White House with the peaceful protesters, I mean, really? You - how can you even paint that any other way? You can't even gloss over that. You can't.
GREENE: So do you still see a chance for him to unite?
BARRETT: No, not at all.
GREENE: When did you lose the hope and optimism that you had?
BARRETT: My hope and optimism left when he didn't acknowledge the young man that was shot, tracked down and shot.
GREENE: Ahmaud Arbery in...
GREENE: ...In Georgia.
BARRETT: It was kind of then I just - it just started tapering. I mean, it's like, you can't - you just have to call a spade a spade. There's no doubt in my mind now. I mean, there's no doubt.
GREENE: What do you tell people who have believed this of Trump the whole time, what you're saying right now, and were like, what is different right now? Why has it come to this moment for you to change your view of him? He's been, in their minds, racist all along.
BARRETT: No, I never said that he wasn't racist. I wouldn't say that - I think that what my point was is I thought he could change by being in the office. I thought the weight of the office and the power of the office would make him want to rise up to the occasion and be. But it's just not in him.
GREENE: Does Joe Biden, in your mind, have a chance to unite the country in the way you're talking about?
BARRETT: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know why? He's sincere, and he's been through real things. He's had heartbreak, serious heartbreak. It changes you. You can see the compassion in Biden, without a doubt.
GREENE: Because he's not - I mean, among some who are part of the Black Lives Matter movement right now, he's...
BARRETT: That's OK.
GREENE: You know, they have - they've pointed out his support of a crime bill that a lot of African Americans have been furious about for years.
BARRETT: He did, but it's OK. We're in a movement right now, and Biden is our choice. Now, I don't know who he's picking as a running mate, but God's put him there for a reason. God put Trump there for a reason - to get us where we are now.
GREENE: You believe that?
BARRETT: Yup. I couldn't figure it out. I couldn't figure it out for a long time. Then the coronavirus hit. You guys came out two years ago, when he first - and he was just having a good old time. He was having a good old time just doing whatever he wanted. And I realized that all his rhetoric was stirring up the nut jobs.
GREENE: So what was God's plan for Trump, do you think?
BARRETT: Again, to pull the covers off the whole thing. He did do that. Give him his credit. He did do that. I don't think it went kind of the way his base intended. But we're not going back to the good old days. They weren't so good for my people.
GREENE: The voice of one voter, John Barrett, who lives outside Houston.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHRONESIS, JULIAN ARGUELLES AND FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND'S "HERNE HILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.