Make the Inner City Great Again

Waching the Trump Administration’s reaction to the re-emergence of Black Lives Matter (it is amazing how these kinds of protests seem to wax, on schedule, every four years, isn’t it?), one gets the impression that it has been wrongfooted. The administration seems, at times, defensive, even paranoid, about charges of “racism.”

What is needed is a way to go back on offense. And President Trump, as we all know, is nothing if not good at taking the offense. What is needed, in other words, is a Greatness Agenda for America’s race problem. I suggest that such an agenda begin in the inner city. A “Make the Inner City Great Again” campaign. What could be more Trumpian?

First, President Trump can easily deflect the effort to associate him with overly aggressive, and even criminal actions by some policemen. He already has worked successfully on prison reform. He might mention that he took on the snobs and integrated Palm Beach. The same folks who didn’t like Donald from Queens didn’t want Jews or blacks in their clubs in Florida. Trump might say that he politely (or not so politely) told them where to go. That gives him something to build upon and brag about with regard to race, crime, and policing.

There is no reason why he could not take a similar path to reform qualified immunity from civil suits. As Glenn Reynolds likes to point out, “it’s a doctrine that judges literally made up out of thin air because they thought it was a good idea.” There’s no reason why it cannot be eliminated, but the reform can include some protection for our police from frivolous charges of abuse. (Maybe the latter can be part of a larger bill that makes it harder for the government and private citizens to make frivolous charges).

Appealing to the Black Working Class

Then there are the cities, particularly the inner cities.

In the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump famously went to Detroit and asked, “what do you have to lose?” Various memes around the web note just how long it has been in many of our big cities since there was a Republican mayor. In many cities it has been quite some time. Minnesota in general, and Minneapolis, in particular, has long been a Democratic stronghold. And race relations there are poor, and the black community is struggling. Is that a coincidence, he might ask? Ditto Chicago and Illinois, and Los Angeles and California. Trump can very easily and truthfully say, “judging by their policies, the Democratic Party wants you poor, unemployed, and unhappy, thinking you will blame it on Republicans and continue to vote for Democrats. I, on the other hand, want you to have a good job, and to grow rich and happy so that you vote for me.” 

This strategy offers Trump an opportunity to pick up votes. Trayvon Martin’s mother thinks that black communities in the United States need more, not fewer police. He can make common cause with her against the lunatic idea of abolishing the police. Martin’s mom also wants better standards for police, which is a cause that the president should join. The president might quote her.

Of course, Trump will never get the votes of black journalists, professors, and lawyers in any great number. But that does not mean he cannot appeal to the black working class, as he has to the working class generally, by focusing on their concerns, implicitly highlighting how their needs differ from those of the better-off members of America’s black community. 

If he’s really in a fighting mood, President Trump might note that Jesse Jackson was right when he called abortion “black genocide.” Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, he might note, once spoke at a Klan meeting, and ran something called the “Negro Project.” And nowadays, even though blacks are roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, over 35 percent of babies aborted each year are black babies. That’s almost 125,000 babies a year. Black lives matter! This is a moral outrage. 

Why do you think Southern Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton support Planned Parenthood? The WASP snobs who didn’t want an integrated country club in Florida support Planned Parenthood, and make support for it the price of entry into their circle. Remember Bill Clinton’s mentor, William Fulbright, signed the infamous “Southern Manifesto” and filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Should we be surprised that the Democratic governor of Virginia has been known to wear blackface? Or was he the guy in the Klan robe? He “doesn’t remember.” Why do all these Democrats support more and more funding for Planned Parenthood? It’s a mystery . . .

Free the Working Class!

President Trump can easily add his deregulatory agenda, particularly he should add reforms to regulations surrounding licensing which currently keep entrepreneurial blacks blocked from many professions that might make them financially secure and independent. He could easily tell some stories, in a Reaganesque manner, about the absurdities of our current licensing regime, to concentrate the issue, and to show why this agenda helps all of America’s poor and working-class, regardless of race, noting that it’s the Democrats who have always wanted to divide Americans by race.

But to return to the cities, particularly, President Trump might discuss the differences between the New York in which he grew up and the New York of today. Formerly, New York City was a great manufacturing hub, one of many in the United States. In his youth, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was still building big, beautiful ships. But, partly due to Democrat-imposed regulatory and tax policies, New York City is no longer a major manufacturing center. They have a mixed record, but President Trump might mention “enterprise zones.” Done right, with real regulatory relief, they might work out fairly well, and connect with his efforts to return manufacturing jobs to the United States. 

He might note that the reason why the U.S. economy was in such great shape before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and why the economic hit has not been as bad as it might have been, is that his deregulatory regime works. “Free the working class” is not a bad slogan. The Democrats, in contrast, were happy to put black people out of work during the COVID-19 crisis. They know that people without jobs are more likely to vote for them.

President Trump also might mention school choice. The same Democrats who run our cities run our schools. And once again the same party regularly fails the black community. Sure they provide jobs for teachers and social workers, but are the kids really learning? President Trump can single out an American hero to highlight the issue, praising school choice pioneers like Polly Williams, the African-American leader in Milwaukee who led the drive for school choice there. The Democrats are in the pocket of the teachers’ unions. They have a partisan interest in jobs and tenure for mediocre teachers. Judging by the results, they have little real interest in actually improving inner-city schools.

Why Immigration Matters

Finally, there is immigration. He might remind everyone that Bernie Sanders was right. Open borders is a “Koch Brothers’ proposal.” Similarly, perhaps in a speech in Los Angeles, he might remind everyone that Cesar Chavez recognized that illegal immigration was bad for American workers and opposed it. If it was bad for his fellow Hispanic workers, it is also bad for America’s black workers—who have already suffered so much from the decisions of white progressives—in the cities and elsewhere over the years. 

America should welcome and assimilate immigrants. But any democratic republic has a right, even a duty, to decide just how many immigrants should join us each year. Unfortunately, for decades we seem to have had a political class that has been indifferent to democracy.

Of course, it’s easy to sympathize with people who struggle to get to America. Who wouldn’t want to live here? But we limit immigration by law for a reason. We cannot allow the whole world to come here. It’s the job of a nation to take care of its own citizens first if we want to remain a place that is worthy of the admiration that brings so many people here.

To our shame, America has not done right by black Americans with its immigration, regulatory, and trade policies. President Trump ought to explain why he’s the man to change that. Opening the economy of the inner cities to create jobs is the Trumpian way forward. Make the inner city a big, beautiful, vibrant marketplace. 

They say he’s a racist. They say he doesn’t care. But the Democrats have been running the cities for decades and have not helped. The Greatness Agenda is the path forward for the inner cities, toward an America that is truly great—great for all citizens, black, white, or of whatever race.

In short, the best way out is through. The way forward for President Trump is to weigh in on America’s historic race problems, focusing on the way Progressives have betrayed the victims of slavery and Jim Crow, and noting that his way, in fact, is the way of moral progress.

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About Richard Samuelson

Richard Samuelson is associate professor of history at California State University, San Bernardino.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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