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Black voters at a South L.A. barbershop might not like Clinton, but Trump makes them want to cuss

Black voters at a South L.A. barbershop might not like Clinton, but Trump makes them want to cuss
Lawrence Tolliver, right, talks politics while cutting hair at his barber shop in South Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 6. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

If it's time for presidential debate No. 2, and time to start counting down the last four weeks till election day, it's time for one more thing:

A visit to Tolliver's barbershop — where politics is sport — to find out how the wildest presidential campaign in my lifetime is playing in the heart of South Los Angeles.

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I stopped in Thursday, and there was shouting, arguing and sharper punditry than anything on cable TV. In no particular order, here are the takeaways:

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is seen as a flawed candidate, but less combustible and more grown up than GOP nominee Donald Trump.

The African American community is more conservative than you might think, but Trump has deeply offended black voters.

And relentless Republican Party attacks on President Barrack Obama, going back eight years, will not be forgiven any time soon.

But let me begin with Jeff Williams, an actor who said he will go to the polls, but won't vote for either Trump or Clinton.

"To me, they're both liars," said Williams. "One's a liar as a salesman, and the other is a traditional political liar."

And this was Thursday, the day before breaking news that won't do either candidate much good, particularly Trump.

Jeff Williams waits to get a haircut from Lawrence Tolliver at Tolliver's Barber Shop on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Jeff Williams waits to get a haircut from Lawrence Tolliver at Tolliver's Barber Shop on Thursday, Oct. 6. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Wikileaks released emails in which excerpts from previously unreported Clinton speeches include her comment that "my dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders."

Meanwhile, more evidence surfaced that Trump's development was permanently arrested in his horny teen years. The Washington Post got hold of a taped 2005 conversation in which Trump talked about groping and having his way with women, and "when you're a star, they let you do it."

Williams, a Bernie Sanders supporter, called Trump an undisciplined, impulsive, petty buffoon.

But he didn't go much easier on Clinton. Her support of the Iraq war and her Wall Street connections, among other things, are a turnoff for him.

Clinton, he went on, reminds him of a long-ago classmate who was ambitious and well-spoken, but had trouble defending her own opinions and accomplished nothing as class president.

Williams' assessment drew modest support from Jason Jenkins, an NYU-schooled marketing man who said Clinton seems to feel "like she's entitled to office now." It's that sense of entitlement that landed her in the email scandal, he said.

But he's voting for Clinton, not Trump. Jenkins said he can't vote for "a narcissist and a sociopath" with very little to offer on policy other than tax reform that favors the rich.

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"He's our fault," said Jenkins. "He's completely the fault of the American people, of politicians, of news media, of our obsession with reality TV. He is the epitome of a popularity contest. There was a direct correlation between how often he was covered in the news and how high his numbers would go."

He’s completely the fault of the American people, of politicians, of news media, of our obsession with reality TV.


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At Tolliver's, what's on the rise is a sense of outrage.

"If you want to hear someone cuss," said Lawrence Tolliver, "just say the words 'Donald Trump.' "

I heard plenty of cussing on Thursday. Some of it came in reference to Trump's line  about not paying taxes because he's smart.

"What happens if we don't pay taxes?" asked Ron Simmons, who runs a drug and alcohol treatment program.

"You mean if we became smart?" asked James Loving, an insurance agent.

The most telling aspect of Trump's personality, said Loving, is that he dishes out criticism but can't take it, and a guy that untethered could be dangerous.

"We could wake up and be at war," said Simmons.

"And then he'll Tweet about it," said Loving.

As Trump took his beating, one man remained conspicuously silent. That would be Tommy Mamon, 26, who sweeps floors and does other odd jobs in the shop.

Tolliver outed him, calling Mamon a Trump supporter.

Mamon shrugged uncomfortably. This would have been an excellent time for him to slip out the back door and go to lunch. I had to admire his courage, though, because he stepped right into the lion's den and spoke his mind.

"I'm not too familiar with politics or policies," Mamon said. But he and a lot of other people are "tired of the same old politicians," and Trump is  different. "He's the change America needs."

"Polite" is the best way to describe the reaction of others, some of whom groaned. But Mamon crossed a line with his next comment about Trump.

"He's honest," he said.

The place erupted. Tolliver was in the middle of a haircut when he howled in disbelief, went over and wrapped Mamon in a headlock.

"He's not trying to fake who he is as a person," Mamon protested, repeating the line that Trump strikes him as honest.

"He just makes stuff up," Tolliver protested, "and he doesn't even care about it. He just moves on to the next lie."

"If his lips are moving, he's lying," said Herman Perez, a retired maintenance worker.

Then how could he have gotten this far?

Hate, said Simmons.

"He started off with the wall, and everybody said yeah, yeah, yeah," said Simmons. And "he tapped into that hate base that always hated Obama for being there in the first place."

Trump was leader of the birther brigade, insisting Obama was born in Africa. Simmons can't forgive that, nor Trump's support from former KKK leader David Duke, nor his call for the execution of the Central Park Five — four black men and one Puerto Rican — who were accused in 1989 of assaulting a white woman but were later exonerated.

Then came Trump's comment that black people live in squalor and ought to come over to his side because "what the hell do you have to lose?"

Of course there are social and economic problems in African American communities, as well as other communities, said Tolliver's crew. But in their opinion, Trump's fixes pretty much began and ended with "stop and frisk," and he wasn't reaching out to them, anyway. He was grossly generalizing about them, and reinforcing stereotypes to nail down white votes.

"He says it not to a black audience, but to a white audience," said Drew Palmer, an information technology engineer and longtime mentor in a youth leadership program. "Now you're disrespecting me."

The irony, said Simmons, is that many African Americans hold conservative values on law and order, faith and various social issues. But at a time when some Republican leaders have warned that the party can't survive without appealing to more minorities, Trump has further alienated them, and this follows eight years of GOP attempts to bury every Obama initiative.

"If it wasn't for racism," said Simmons, "a lot of us would probably be Republicans."

Perez said it may surprise Trump to know that "we don't all live in hovels. Some of us have homes, believe it or not.'

"And some of us actually vote."

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