Donald Trump’s weekend sewage flood of rage against Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore, Maryland were the desperate squeals of a fifth grader who has been caught cheating and hopes to deflect attention from this fact.
First published in August 2019.
Cummings, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is carrying out Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government that the framers set up in part to maintain a check on the executive.
Trump wondered why any human being would want to live in Baltimore and called Cummings a racist, which would sound like the raving of someone suffering from mental collapse if we did not have his history of racism to refer to.
Trump’s lashing out is the predictable reaction of a bully who seeks out anything he regards as a weakness in the hopes that his audience will not notice his own failings. The reality is that yes, Baltimore has problems. It ranks among the top ten most dangerous cities in America, and its poverty rate is well above that of Maryland or the United States as a whole. What Trump does not acknowledge is that poverty and violence are not unique to the district of one congressional representative. As many pointed out in tweets back to him, quite a few Republican politicians could be the victims of Trump’s attacks. And singling out one Democrat to lay blame is an extraordinary — and willful — blindness, given the reality that the economy under Democratic policies is better than when the Republicans are in charge.
But if we care about facts, we have to acknowledge that Baltimore is struggling. The homicide rate has been high for several decades, placing it second in a list of major cities for the rate of people killed last year. Baltimore County schools, based on test scores, rank twentieth out of twenty-four districts in Maryland, and the city’s schools are at the bottom of the list. The neighboring county, Carroll, scores at the top, though the whole of Maryland is in the middle of the states with regard to school metrics. Baltimore ranks nineteenth out of twenty cities for increases in the poverty rate, though Maryland is one of the richest states.
This list can go on and on, demonstrating that Baltimore and Maryland have problems that are not unique and that by no means make either the worst places to live in this country. My reading of these data, along with an observation of Maryland’s proximity to the District of Columbia, is that we have an illustration here of the growing separation between the rich and the rest in our nation. The relationship, for example, between the percentages of funding that come from federal, state, and local sources for schools and school performance in the state is not a perfect correlation, but there is the tendency for districts that are better able to fund themselves to achieve better outcomes. And in the schools in Baltimore that have predominately black students, the buildings are falling apart, and funding has been declining from what was an already inadequate level.
It is easy enough for the right wing to tell people to pull themselves out of poverty, while showing no interest in making that possible for anything beyond exceptional cases. The unemployment rate of Baltimore spiked during the Great Recession and remains above the national average, and seventy-four percent of the city’s population are eligible for food assistance, based on their incomes. When jobs are less available, and when the ones that are on offer do not pay enough, telling people to generate their own tides to rise upon is the kind of smug lack of empathy that I have come to expect from the Republican Party.
Solutions are already on the table. Baltimore schools could not only be funded better, but could also have teachers and staff who are more connected with the community. Maryland’s minimum wage of $10.10 an hour could be raised. And more generally, as a nation, we could end the disastrous war on drugs that magnifies our rates of violence. We could make state colleges paid for by taxes to guarantee access to more people of modest means. We could shrink the growing income inequality that is driving the middle class to extinction.
That Trump would attack Representative Cummings when it has been Republican obstructionism that have stood in the way of the solutions that reduce poverty is no surprise. Trump is the culmination of an anti-social ideology that has been working for decades to transform this country, a model that has convinced millions that freedom is the same thing as policies that make a few people very much richer than the rest of us.
Reversing this will take time and will require that more and more of us stand up to the bigotry that has adopted Trump as its present face.🔷
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