He’s either unwilling or unable to stop.
Donald Trump cancelled his planned Martin Luther King Day visit to the National Museum of African-American history and culture, ABC News reported Sunday. The unspecified “scheduling issues” that his transition team said were responsible for the scrapped plans were unfortunate. That’s mostly because the President-elect really could have benefitted from an educational experience about the lives of black people in America: namely, that they exist outside of the “inner city” and often have lives that aren’t defined by criminal activity.
That’s a concept Trump has appeared to struggle with since the early days of his campaign. And the event that preceded the museum visit cancellation — his Twitter meltdown in response to Congressman and civil rights legend John Lewis referring to him as an “illegitimate” president in a Friday interview with Chuck Todd — was a reminder.
In that three-tweet attack, Trump characterized Lewis’s district as being “in horrible shape,” “falling apart,” and “crime infested.” He added that Lewis, (who, prior to his career in Congress, had his skull fractured by law enforcement officers as he marched to demand voting rights for black people in 1965), “should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.”
Trump’s “argument bears little relation to the facts,” Vox’s Dara Lind pointed out, explaining, “Atlanta is the heart of the black middle class in America. And while the city has a relatively high violent crime rate, it is almost certainly not as dangerous as Donald Trump (who routinely claims that America’s murder rate is at a 50-year high, and claims that black Americans ‘can’t walk out the door without getting shot’) thinks it is.” And why does he insist should Lewis focus specifically on the “burning” inner-cities versus any other social issue in America? Unclear. Well, it’s a little more clear if you understand the way Trump thinks.
This isn’t the first time he’s disregarded demographic realities to force a link between black people and inner cities — and it probably won’t be the last. Whether this habit is a racist dog-whistle to his white supporters or a reflection of true ignorance is up for debate, but it’s definitely a pattern.
Trump cannot or will not discuss black people except in connection with “inner cities” and crime
Trump’s frequent use of “inner city” in his Twitter rant against Lewis was odd in part because the term, in the way he uses it, is really outdated. As Lind wrote:
Time and again, he conflates black residents with the “inner city,” and characterizes inner cities as a lawless, crumbling dump — not to mention a place where all votes are fraudulently cast. It’s a characterization that resembles actual black America (or increasingly-nonblack urban America) less than it resembles 1980s dystopias like Escape from New York and Demolition Man.
But he’s decided to pick this theme and run with it — and it started long before his this weekend. Just a few examples.
At the third presidential debate: “Our inner cities are a disaster,” Trump said. “You get shot walking to the store. They have no education, they have no jobs. I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than [Hillary Clinton] can ever do in ten lifetimes. All she has done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos.”
At the second presidential debate: In response to an audience question about whether the candidates could “a devoted president to all the people in the United States,” his answer included, “I would be a president for all of the people. African-Americans, the inner cities. Devastating what’s happening to our inner cities.”
At the first presidential debate: Each candidate was asked how they would “heal [America’s racial] divide.” Trump implied black people are universally trapped in — you guessed it — “the inner city” with all of it’s associated criminal activity.
We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.
We have to know what we’re doing. Right now, our police, in many cases, are afraid to do anything. We have to protect our inner cities because African-American communities are being decimated by crime.
Reacting to these statements in October 2016, Vox’s Victoria Massie identified what was already a pattern in Trump’s thinking, explained that “inner city” has very little do do with where black people actually live in the United States today. It’s become code for “cultural failings” versus actual geographic locations, and ignores the gentrification that is actually making urban areas less black. Relatedly, German Lopez has reported on the data proving that America is nothing close to the crime-ridden hellscape Trump repeatedly insists it is.
More recently, Trump has revealed that he doesn’t just link black people to inner cities as an insult when he’s angrily tweeting, or as a dramatic flourish when he’s making policy promises or trying to impress others. (Now, who, exactly, he’s trying to impress is up for debate — Lind has observed that Trump is really speaking to white Americans when makes promises draped in insulting inaccuracies to black people). He’s also seemingly used this thinking to decide on a political appointee.
“Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities,” Trump said in December to explain his choice to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities.”
Putting aside the fact that HUD’s work is not focused specifically on inner cities, Trump seems to think it is. So, given his history, it’s not surprising that he decided a neurosurgeon with no expertise in housing policy — but who happens to be black — was the perfect person to lead it.
The pattern reached an almost comical level when he announced that another black man with no relevant experience, talk show and game show host Steve Harvey (whose primary area of “expertise,” to use the term generously, is regressive relationship advice) would be working with his administration to bring “positive change to” — you guessed it — “the inner cities.”
Trump won only eight percent of the black vote, and it’s unlikely that one MLK Day visit to the the National Museum of African American History and culture would have increased his popularity this demographic, or that it would have done much to erase the memory of the racism against multiple groups that he expressed during his campaign. But the cancellation means he missed out on an opportunity for a crash course in the black experience in the United States — one that his statements suggest he really couldn’t afford to miss.