In an otherwise slow news week, President Trump again commanded national attention. Using his preferred medium of Twitter, he exposed the hypocrisy of major Democrats, who wax poetic about the poor people on the border, even as their own districts persist in crime and decrepitude.
Unlike almost all of his predecessors, Trump is not afraid to counterattack his critics, nor is he cowed into silence by unfair claims that attacking his nonwhite critics is automatically racist.
Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has been a frequent critic of President Trump, was in the crosshairs of the latest tweetstorm, in which Trump pointed out the appalling conditions in Cummings’ Baltimore district.
“Elijah Cummings spends all of his time trying to hurt innocent people through ‘Oversight,’” Trump said. “He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district!” As with his “go back” attack on “the squad” several weeks ago, Trump’s latest remarks evoked feigned surprise and horror. It also prompted a fact-free defense of conditions in Baltimore (reminiscent of the defense of squalid Haiti last year) and, of course, many said this his observations were simply racist.
Many American Cities are Hell-Holes
Trump said something that everyone who has spent any time in America’s cities knows. Many of them are poor, dirty, badly governed, and dangerous—often the worst conditions are in black neighborhoods and majority-minority cities. These combined phenomena create a feedback of “white flight” and capital flight, as businesses, the tax base, and the middle class flee. Over the years, things have only gotten worse.
These majority-minority districts frequently elect useless demagogues, who deliver little, other than the rhetoric of flattery and blame. Cummings and his colleagues Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) are all archetypal cases. Not infrequently, extensive corruption is the handmaiden of these politicians—Detroit’s Kwame Kilpatrick comes to mind. Trump’s message in recent weeks is straightforward: those who purport to represent these poor and desperate people provide little in the way of good government or service to them.
The state of America’s lost cities—Detroit, Baltimore, Birmingham—is familiar to anyone with eyes to see. One boarded-up building after another. Crime rates that rival Venezuela’s. Police insulted and attacked by shameless young people. While government is not the sole cause of or the only solution to what ails America’s cities, it certainly seems to be doing little to help, and the locales and politicians Trump singled out are in particularly bad shape.
These cities’ situation is much like the one Trump as a real-estate developer confronted in New York in the 1970s. Things can change, and these pathologies can be reversed, but there has to be will and commitment. More importantly, there has to be some honesty. Law and order are the foundation of everything else; without these, commerce, families, cooperation, and normal life disappear. For law and order to prevail, the anti-social elements in our inner-cities need to be arrested, ostracized, or moved out, as the case may be. As the mayoral tenures of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in New York City showed, attention to such matters in city government can and will drive crime drops.
Trump Is Forcing Critics To Own Their Mixed Messages on Crime
Of course, good government doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Government is harder when there is ambivalence about law and order. The rhetoric of racism and black power masks the real source of the descent into crime, poverty, and despair that happens in many of these communities: a moral breakdown followed closely by the associated breakdown of prosperity and order.
The biggest problem with the Elijah Cummings and other hustlers like him is their failure to drive home a simple message that could yield great benefits to these hurting cities and their residents: namely, that violent criminals are enemies of their communities, and law-abiding blacks need to support the police in their efforts to attack crime. Instead, these politicians frequently are on the side of the criminals and rioters.
While I was never a fan, like many Americans, I hoped Barack Obama’s election to the presidency would help ease racial tension. Instead, like his mentor, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Obama wasted the opportunity. Instead of preaching the need for a moral revival and a message of moral clarity on issues of disorder and crime, he was often wishy-washy and ambiguous when it came to events such as the anti-police riots in Ferguson, Missouri and in Baltimore. He was ready with words of sympathy and understanding for the rioters, but rarely willing to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. He perpetuated the myth that racism is an epidemic—this in the country that twice elected him president—where the real epidemic is a moral breakdown among the very inner city communities he spent some time organizing—a breakdown that now is spreading to other parts of the country.
Governance is made more difficult, and police work requires more force, when there is a breakdown of authority and morale, which includes an epidemic of fatherless children, the no snitching mentality, and the pervasive nihilism that pervades our culture. These phenomena are all easily verified. But they are hard to talk about.
No one wants to be cruel or to spread a message of demoralization, nor should we ignore the many exceptions to the rule. But it’s also true that no one wants to be labeled with the scarlet letter of racism, either, and that often causes people to miss or deny what’s happening.
The “Democrats Did It” Trope Is Willfully Blind To Reality
Combined with the refusal to confront reality on the Left, and particularly among the race hustler politicians thriving in this culture, there is a silly, one-dimensional counter-narrative among many Republicans: These cities are run by Democrats, don’t you know!
Of course, this is true. And while Democrat control of our large cities exacerbates existing problems, it’s unlikely that this is the primary cause of them. Those causes are cultural and moral. Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Oregon are also “Democrat” cities and have problems of their own, but their problems do not resemble Baltimore or Detroit’s problems.
Regardless of partisan political rhetoric, people do notice these facts and act accordingly. It’s why there’s white flight and also a flight of the black middle class away from majority-black cities. White flight accelerated with the crime explosion of the 1960s and the bussing that forced together public school students from different ends of town with little in common socially, economically, or otherwise. Continuing crime and disorder have led to the swift abandonment of these cities by anyone with the means to leave.
Trump deserves some credit for addressing this issue head on. The denial of reality about conditions helps no one. Indeed, the suicidal solidarity of opinion that views discussions of disorder and black crime in places like Baltimore as “airing dirty laundry” prevents a serious discussion of the problem, the politicians who have ignored it, and the possible solutions.
Trump, in his bull-in-a-china-shop way, is inviting blacks to consider how poorly served they have been by their political leaders, and he is inviting all Americans to take a long, hard look at the decline of our cities and to join a common cause to restore order and prosperity.
Conditions were not always this bad, and black leaders did not always make excuses for the criminal class. Indeed, even the boarded-up buildings of Baltimore speak to a different, more civilized time of middle-class prosperity. But in the aftermath of the chaotic 1960s, a long period of disorder and moral decline has reigned and led to a related decline of urban safety, prosperity, and population.
I’m not terribly ideological or dogmatic about these things. Conditions won’t be perfect no matter what is done; politics and policy are only part of the answer; immigration will change the political and power dynamics in our cities; there will always be different perspectives on the right balance of liberty and order. But these problems can be made somewhat better, and that requires law-abiding people of all races, law enforcement, and the political class to join together on the same side.
While Trump is frequently castigated as a demagogue, the misplaced and false identification of black communities with their criminal element by people like Elijah Cummings—and even by Barack Obama—is far more toxic. While the political class will now deny that Baltimore is in a dysfunctional, “rat-infested” condition, the people living there need no reminders. Perhaps they will now realize that they’ve been swindled by those supposedly looking out for them.
More important, regardless of who is president or who represents them in Congress, they and their leaders need to seek a renewal of their moral and cultural life. They may not like Trump or his tone, but his reminder of the failure of black political leaders to usher in the significant improvement of black communities is undeniable.