Donald Trump is not the first Republican politician to denigrate a great American city. But with his dismissal of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” he is providing a particularly crude example of this foul politics. In an effort to trash House Oversight Committee chair Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who is examining the president’s many high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump trashed the city that Cummings represents as a “very dangerous & filthy place.”
Baltimore, the president says, is so indefensible that “no human being would want to live there.” In fact, more than 600,000 Americans live in the city that has been intricately linked to the American story since it was established in 1729. So what’s going on?
First, Cummings is an African American congressman, and Trump has been going out of his way in recent weeks to attack people of color who serve in Congress. Last week, he attacked four newly elected women of color: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. This week, Trump is attacking senior members of the House, such as Cummings, who could play a role in his impeachment.
Second, Baltimore is a city where the overwhelming majority of residents are people of color, and Trump has a long history of smearing communities, countries, and continents where people of color are the majority. This, Americans will remember, is the president who, during a discussion about immigration from Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, asked: “Why are we having all these people from shit-hole countries come here?”
Trump is a racist. And a xenophobe. But he is also a practitioner of one of the cruelest forms of politics. He is using his bully pulpit to deliberately demean communities where people who do not agree with his presidency reside. In this regard, Trump is engaging in a practice that has become well-established in a Republican Party that has made “divide and conquer” its motto.
Democrats have, of course, pushed back—picking up on the #WeAreBaltimore critique of the president’s destructive rhetoric. But the strongest pushback has come from Baltimore’s 182-year-old daily newspaper. It is the job of newspaper editorial pages to stand up for their cities, especially when they are unfairly attacked by governors and congressmen and presidents. This is one of the many reasons why, even in these difficult times for so-called “legacy media,” it is vital to maintain local newspapers with strong editorial voices.
The Baltimore Sun has faced all the challenges that have plagued urban dailies in recent decades. Its staff is not what it once was. Nor is its circulation. Like many metropolitan dailies with limited resources, it struggles to strike a proper balance when covering a city, its suburbs, and the state; and it does not always succeed.
Yet, while other papers have dialed down their editorializing, and in some cases abandoned historic commitments to present robust opinions, the Sun has battled the odds in order to maintain its distinctive voice.
After the president attacked the city, the Sun raised that voice as powerfully as a great American newspaper should. “It’s not hard to see what’s going on here,” the paper declared in an editorial published just hours after the president started tweeting his attacks on Cummings. “The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream.”
True. But truer still was the editorial’s concluding observation that
while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner—or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming)—we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.