Jul 29, 2019

Trump plants racial explosives in the urban-rural divide

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's onslaught of disparaging tweets calling Baltimore a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" — and characterizing Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings as failing to fix it — extends Trump's streak of vilifying big American cities and adds a racial spin that scores points with parts of his base.

The big picture: Cities, particularly coastal ones, are Democratic strongholds that have been protesting Trump policies like immigration and health care since day one of his administration.

  • Attacking cities and their mostly Democratic leaders helps to drive a wedge between urban and rural America, a strategy that served Trump well in 2016. Earlier this month, Trump called out Los Angeles and San Francisco for homelessness and filth.
  • And Trump's advisors tell the Washington Post that the overall message — coming on the heels of his "go back" tweets aimed at 4 non-white congresswomen —resonates well with his political base, including white working-class voters he needs in 2020.

The backdrop: Trump called the district of Rep. Elijah Cummings a "very dangerous & filthy place" and a city "no human being would want to live" in Saturday tweets, which were quickly condemned as offensive and racist by city leaders and Democrats —including Baltimore native Nancy Pelosi.

  • City supporters and Trump detractors took to social media, with #WeAreBaltimore and #BaltimoreStrong trending on Twitter.
  • Victor Blackwell, CNN anchor and Baltimore native, gave an emotional on-air response to Trump: "He's insulted thousands of people, many different types of people. But when he tweets about infestation, it's about black and brown people."

The latest: The Baltimore Sun came out swinging in a scathing editorial Sunday reminding Trump that Baltimore "is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing" and that its "[b]etter to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one."

  • Trump fired back on Sunday, calling Cummings a racist and incompetent leader. He also turned his ire on Pelosi, calling her San Francisco district "unrecognizable."
  • “The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation’s great African American people,” Trump tweeted. “Now, lowest unemployment in U.S. history, and only getting better. Elijah Cummings has failed badly!"

The reality: Cummings' district, which includes a large portion of Baltimore, is about 55% black, per the Baltimore Sun. Violent crime is a persistent problem: the city has had more than 300 homicides for 4 straight years.

  • Cummings' district also includes well-off suburban areas and some rural parts. It's the second-wealthiest and second-most well-educated majority-black district in the country, 538's Nate Silver pointed out on Twitter.
  • Its median household income is about $60,000, and it is home to more college graduates than the country as a whole, per the Washington Post.

Between the lines: Distressed districts are held by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. And racial, geographic and economic divides are far more nuanced than tweets and headlines convey.

  • "Because two things can be true at the same time: Our national economy is strong & prosperous; it's also severely divided," tweeted John Lettieri, CEO of the Economic Innovation Group.
  • Places where educated workers cluster are doing well. But even in a booming economy, millions of Americans live in communities that haven't yet recovered.
  • "Be careful when attempting to weaponize local economic conditions and party representation," Lettieri tweeted.

The irony: Trump has one of the most urban backgrounds of any U.S. president, growing up in New York City and making his fortune on Manhattan real estate.

The bottom line: The perpetually combative stance "places Trump in the strange position of frequently disparaging parts of his own country," writes New York's Jonathan Chait. "This is surely unique in American history."

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Scoop: Trump considered declaring state of emergency in Baltimore

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

It isn't clear if there was a plan for last week. Some consequential things went down: The U.S. sanctioned Iran's top diplomat, revved up the trade war with China, and signed off on a spending bill that will spike the national debt. But all that got largely lost by the wayside as the president went to war with a Baltimore icon.

The big picture: Nobody knew it was coming, nobody knew how to handle it, and a week later, senior White House officials have their fingers crossed that the president won't turn their week upside-down once again with another tweet about a "Fox and Friends" segment. As the week has unfurled, people inside and outside the White House described to me how a few pokes of a keyboard by the leader of the free world sent some of Washington's most powerful political players scrambling for cover.

Go deeperArrowAug 4, 2019

GOP Gov. Larry Hogan condemns Trump's Baltimore tweets as "outrageous"

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan condemned President Trump's attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings' (D-Md.) Baltimore district on the C4 radio show Monday, calling the president's tweets "outrageous and inappropriate."

Catch up quick: Trump tweeted a series of attacks on Cummings in recent days that targeted Baltimore, calling it a "rodent infested mess" and a place "no human being would want to live." Politicians and members of the Baltimore community have hit back at Trump for his comments, which many have characterized as racist. The hashtag #WeAreBaltimore trended on Twitter this weekend, after a scathing op-ed by the Baltimore Sun slighted Trump with the headline: "Better to have a few rats than to be one."

Go deeperArrowJul 29, 2019

National Cathedral: Trump's tweets give cover to white supremacists

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Washington National Cathedral's leaders said Tuesday that President Trump uses "dangerous" and "violent dehumanizing words" to attack minority lawmakers and the city of Baltimore — warning that "violent words lead to violent actions."

"[T]hey are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human 'infestation' in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation."
— Statement by Washington National Cathedral leaders
Go deeperArrowJul 31, 2019