‘The Grift’ Started Long Before Trump

Clay Cane‘s book on ‘Black Republicans from the Party of Lincoln to the Cult of Trump’

Tucker Lieberman
8 min readNov 18, 2023

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THE GRIFT in red text
Detail from the book cover of ‘The Grift’ from Bookshop

Clay Cane has hosted a SiriusXM radio show since the first year of Trump’s presidency. His book The Grift: The Downward Spiral of Black Republicans from the Party of Lincoln to the Cult of Trump is available for preorder. It’s a thorough examination of a complex topic, connecting Black American history since the mid-19th-century to today’s Trumpism. Whether you’re learning this history for the first time or you want a refresher, you’ll take away something from The Grift.

‘Grifting Is a Betrayal’

“Today, a pernicious strain of Black Republicans,” Cane says, “has seized influence by disregarding the interests of Black voters for their advancement.”

“Grifting is a betrayal,” he says; it means lying “to sell one’s soul” and “to dishonor your community.” This is his assessment.

He points to many examples of those who, in his judgment, are grifters.

One is Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), who, “by insisting that Black people stay poor, uneducated, and docile,” became “a wealthy man, pointedly disregarding his own advice.” He emboldened white supremacists, as they could then point to a Black man who was making their points for them. Cane adds that “if there were Fox News in 1901,” Washington would have had his own show.

Another is Edward William Brooke III, a Republican who was elected senator from Massachusetts in 1966. A Time Magazine profile “glorified” him a month after he took office “for not being like the other Blacks.” But while Brooke tended not to explicitly align himself with Black movements, nonetheless he was “unafraid of calling out the GOP’s racism”—and today, the GOP avoids mentioning him.

Yet another is Winsome Sears, a Republican who in 2021 ran a successful campaign for lieutenant governor of Virginia. During her campaign, she complained that kids are being taught to assume that all white people are racist, and — “without regard for the broader impact on public school education and teachers’ safety,” Cane laments —she flaunted an AR-15 style rifle in an ad.

There’s a Lot of History…

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/