Editor’s note: NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman recently spoke with Rhonda Sharpe, the president of the National Economics Association, for a story on the economy under President Donald Trump. Sharpe, who is black, also touched on the intersection of race, conservatism and economics. Their conversation is published here, edited for length and clarity. Watch the full segment on tonight’s NewsHour program.
PAUL SOLMAN: So how do you rate Donald Trump’s first year in terms of the economy?
RHONDA SHARPE: I think in terms of the economy, as with every new president coming in I think he’s getting some of the residuals potentially from Barack Obama’s policy. Most economists understand that there’s lag time for policies to take effect and I think he’s reaping the benefits of that. I think one of the biggest things of Donald Trump is we see all the ways that he’s not presidential and they really resonate with us and I often tell folks that we saw that when he was running the campaign. I think of any president that we’ve ever had, he’s really going to be one that is a wait and see because I think that he probably has the ability to reinvent himself in ways that we haven’t seen other politicians [do].
I think the big question is going to be which way that goes, and if folks who are very opposed to him recognise that they have an opportunity potentially to influence some of that. So as the president of the National Economics Association, one of the things I am most concerned about is the lack of representation of black economists in his space and having a voice around policies that impact our community.
PAUL SOLMAN: Are you worried that in reflexively opposing him people make it harder for him to change direction and be more bipartisan?
RHONDA SHARPE: I think the reflexive response to him not only makes it difficult for him, but I think it also makes it difficult for anyone that wants to be a part of that. so for me when he became the president and there was a call for applications to be a part of his White House, I actually thought that this was a wonderful opportunity for black and brown people who would not have had an opportunity to be at the table because generally what Democrats do, they already have a relationship with black and brown folks so there’s no space for newcomers.
But what was very clear was that anyone who was black and having conversations with him there was enormous push back and that I’m concerned about because I don’t think it’s going to be in the best interests of minorities. As a black woman, I’m concerned because I’m already not on the policy agenda. I worry about where’s the voice for me — not just as a black American, but more specifically as a black woman. Who’s going to represent my policy interest?
PAUL SOLMAN: And the more that black women are seen as taking the position that they’re in opposition, the harder it’s going to be to bridge the gap?
RHONDA SHARPE: I don’t think it’s even a matter that you take a position in opposition. I think it is sort of, do you want to deal with explaining? So I’m a black Republican and I often have to say to people, I’m fiscally conservative, I’m not socially [conservative]… What I would like to see is that folks understand it’s important to have a seat at the table. When I say that, people say would you want to sit at a table with a Nazi? And I think there’s a difference between Donald Trump and a Nazi in terms of Germany. But I do think it’s important to be at the table, because if you’re not there you can’t be heard.
PAUL SOLMAN: That’s really interesting. And it’s interesting because at least a lot of people I know, thoughtful people who oppose Donald Trump, are really happy that seemingly even-tempered, fair-minded generals are his military advisors, his foreign policy advisors.
RHONDA SHARPE: Again my lens is shaded differently. So my question would be, who are those folks and do they look like the population that I’m concerned about? Because, I’m not generalizing, but I think the folks in my circle are not necessarily thrilled. [They’re] more concerned because unfortunately in America, this notion of conservatism and white generally equates with people who might be hostile to marginalized populations. I often say to folks think if it were not for some fiscal policies, the truth is most blacks line up with Republican policies. We tend to be, have a strong affiliation with the church, which means you’re not going to support homosexuality, you’re probably not going to support abortion, you believe in the family.
But I think it is the ways in which fiscal policies are promoted around Republican [principles] that makes it harder [to understand]. And then you think about Donald Trump and let’s make America great again. When you hear let’s make America great again, people immediately think about it in racial terms, and not necessarily in economic terms.
PAUL SOLMAN: One more question. Is it harder since the presidency of Donald Trump to be a black woman economist Republican?
RHONDA SHARPE: Here is what I would say. I recently founded an organization called the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race, and what I quickly learned is that people don’t think about Republicans as doing work on affirmative action or gender or racial inequality. And that as I am looking for supporters for my organization, that who Rhonda is I need to put on the back shelf because people are not necessarily looking to support a Republican in this space, independent of the work that I do.
So I would say that it is harder, which is disheartening, and I don’t think it’s about being an economist. I think it’s about being a black Republican. And again for me, I’m fiscally conservative. I care how you spend my tax dollars, and that’s what got me to register to be a Republican.