I love Baltimore, where my mother and her parents are from and where I attended college, so I’ll allow the reader to guess at my reaction to the president’s latest Twitter tirade. With that disclaimer in mind, there’s a defense of his tweets which I find unconvincing and which I think deserves a brief response.
Trump’s defenders and his detractors alike have compared his tweets about Baltimore (and Elijah Cummings, the congressman who represents a district that includes much of West Baltimore) to his infamous “sh**hole” comment, which came during an immigration-policy meeting and referred to Haiti and other countries in the Third World. The defenders make the comparison favorably: About Baltimore, as about Haiti, Trump is more or less correct. Let’s grant for argument’s sake that Trump’s comment about sh**ty countries was a crass allusion to a broader point about immigration policy: that the U.S. cannot build its immigration system around importing people from countries riven by crime and poverty because, even if it would improve their lives to come here, it would both put strain on our public services and lead to political irruptions. On this view, Trump’s “sh**hole” comment was really him voicing a hard truth the recognition of which is necessary to an immigration policy that serves the national interest.
But what national interest does it serve to trash a city filled with people whose interests Trump represents? Perhaps the broader point Trump is trying to illustrate is that the city’s local leadership has failed it, and it’s certainly true that things have gone downhill since William Donald Schaefer. But Trump once believed Obama had a role to play in helping the city. Why doesn’t he now? A few brave souls have suggested that Trump is trying, magnanimously, to bring attention to the plight of Baltimoreans. An alternative possibility is that, as usual, he has decided that picking this fight will redound to his political interest. I leave deciding which is likelier to the reader. In any case, we are left with a president whose defenders insist he values national cohesion spending his weekend insulting a city that has seen a breakdown of order and failure of leadership in recent years — yet still a proud city, a city with a great history and plenty to recommend it, and, let’s not forget, an American city.