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Clarence Page: Donald Trump, shifting tone, still tone deaf

As Donald Trump expressed "regret" for saying "the wrong thing" sometimes in his campaign, I thought he was going to break into song:

"Regrets, I've had a few/ But then again, too few to mention...."

Yes, that line from Frank Sinatra's "My Way" (actually Paul Anka's rewrite of a French song) reflects the wealthy developer-turned-Republican presidential candidate's attitude in Charlotte, N.C., in his first speech since rebooting his failing campaign's leadership.

Regrets? He's had a few, Trump tells us. But apparently they are too few to mention, since he didn't bother to mention any of them.

Or more likely, listing his offenses against various groups and individuals _ varying from a Gold Star family to Fox News' Megyn Kelly _ would "take too much time," as he says of all "political correctness."

Instead of apologies, Trump prefers to blame a whipping boy that everyone hates, us media workers, for allegedly distorting what he has said. And after all the billions of dollars' worth of free publicity that we have given him, this is the thanks we get.

"They will take words of mine out of context and spend a week obsessing over every single syllable," he said. Sure. It takes about a week to find our way through his word salad.

In this case, he offered us a non-apology apology, an apology that does not include having to say you're sorry or what you should be sorry about.

"Sometimes in the heat of the debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing," Trump said in his Charlotte speech, prudently reading from a Teleprompter so he would not say the wrong thing. "I have done that, and believe it or not I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain."

He was not specific about what he regrets, but he lamented with a line that you don't often hear from politicians: "(S)ometimes I can be too honest." That's a sarcastic signal to his supporters who hear Trump as a truth-teller, even when he screws up the facts.

For example, after his non-apology apology Trump embarked on a series of campaign stops across the industrial Midwest in which he made a direct appeal to African-Americans _ even though his audiences were very obviously white.

Trump turned the traditional art of political promise-making on its head: He asked black Americans, "What do you have to lose?"

"Look at how much African-American communities are suffering from Democratic control," he preached on Friday in Dimondale, Mich., a mostly white town near Lansing.

"To those I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"

It was the sort of speech that one might expect from a candidate who is advising black people without knowing much about black people.

For example, Trump's black youth unemployment claim has been rated as "mostly false" by Politifact. The jobless rate for African-Americans aged 16 to 24 is just under 19 percent, the fact checkers found, not 58 percent.

But to Trump no problem is too serious to be exaggerated in pursuit of votes, especially when the problem can be blamed on Democrats.

Trump's new pitch to blacks in front of white audiences isn't really aimed at African-Americans. It is really aimed at reassuring skeptical white voters that he's not a total racist, even though his vision of black urban life seems to have come from watching HBO's "The Wire."

Trump should get out more. If he visited some black communities, he would find that most of us are not poor, unemployed, breaking the law or itching to kill cops.

As black Republican strategist Ron Christie, who worked in the George W. Bush White House, told NPR, party leaders have "made the mistake of putting the largely African-American messaging in terms of crime, poverty and welfare rather than talking about empowerment, self-sufficiency and achieving the American dream."

Trump knows how to preach that message. It shouldn't be just for whites only.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at cpage

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