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Race Is A Hot Button Issue Ahead Of November's Presidential Election

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Last week's Republican convention included several speakers who were people of color. It was a chance for Nikki Haley or Sen. Tim Scott to speak up. The convention did not include Shermichael Singleton. He has left the party. He once worked on Ben Carson's presidential campaign and then followed Carson into the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But he lost his job in the Trump administration after criticizing the president. And in July, he said, as an African American, he'd had enough of the party, too. He said his choice came down to one question.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON: Well, do you continue to be a part of this thing in association though it no longer represents or embodies anything dignified? Or do you separate and say, in its current form, this thing must be destroyed? And I chose the latter of the two.

INSKEEP: Did you have a particular goal during your years in the Republican Party?

SINGLETON: Oh - and of course. Steve, my - one of the biggest goals for me was always to change some of the things in the Republican Party that made many minorities apprehensive or made many minorities absolutely distrustful of the party. And I worked very diligently on trying to work with various members. And I have worked for, you know, multiple Republican campaigns - presidential campaigns in trying to make sure that certain policy positions played a more pivotal and central role with Republican candidates because the goal of politics is to bring people in. In order to bring people in, you have to understand where these people are. And you have to understand the language, the culture and the experiences. To try and work on that, again, to me, was just a noble cause, an honorable cause. And unfortunately, I failed, and I think many other individuals who attempted to do the same thing also failed.

INSKEEP: Now, I'm thinking about the Republican convention just passed in which people of color had very prominent roles. Nikki Haley spoke, to give one example. Sen. Tim Scott spoke. What did you think of that convention?

SINGLETON: The overall convention, I didn't like. I thought the convention focused too much on grievance politics. I believe they played into a white identity grievance politics of fear. I thought a lot of the speeches were oftentimes dark. I thought some of the speeches about folks going into the suburbs and the violence, you know, attacking individuals and white individuals should be concerned about where the - we all should be concerned. That's not a white thing. I think whether you're Black, Hispanic, Asian or whatever you may be, all people should be concerned about crime. I don't think you have to be white for that.

And so there's a way to condemn the outright violence while saying, now there is a process for you to air your grievances. Our Constitution permits that. And we as a party that loves the Constitution - at least purportedly - we want to permit that. But instead, most of the speakers approached it in a way that, again, I believe attempted to arouse fear out of a lot of white Americans. And I think that's very dangerous because...

INSKEEP: You're saying that when the president said in his convention speech that he was defending against a, quote, "radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy the American way of life," that's the kind of stoking fear you're talking about, I suppose.

SINGLETON: Precisely - because when you use those type of dog whistle words and rhetoric, what type of symbolism are you attempting to instill in people's minds? So those things that I noticed made me very concerned again about the future, very concerned about the Republican Party and very concerned about Mr. Trump's reelection.

INSKEEP: Did you say at the beginning of this interview that you thought it was time for the Republican Party to be destroyed?

SINGLETON: I didn't say that, but I said something close to it. I do think it's time for the Republican Party to have a rebirth. And in order for something new to be born again, something must be thrown away. I'll put it to you that way. I think it is very clear that in its current form, the Republican Party just cannot - it cannot be permitted to exist. It's just not possible. The Republican Party does not represent conservative values anymore. It does not represent any of those foundational principles. This has morphed into something else. And that something else, as I call it, it is a cancer. And you either beat the cancer, or the cancer consumes everything until it's dead. One of the two things are going to happen here.

INSKEEP: Shermichael Singleton, thanks so much for your time.

SINGLETON: Thanks so much, my friend. And I hope to join you again soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.