He has broken both promises. His blatant corruption is part of a larger politics of spectacle that has nothing to do with fixing things or making life at least a bit better in our nation’s neighborhoods.
Many complain about polarization and a politics mired in ideology. In fact, Trump survives by making polarization worse. Ideology and cultural warfare allow him to survive while avoiding talk about policies and problems that don’t interest him in the least.
It was thus refreshing to sit down last week with a group of mayors who can’t hide behind rants about building walls or fighting “hoaxes.”
The five chief executives I spoke with are part of a group called NewDEAL, a network of local officials who swap ideas about how to make their cities grow economically in sustainable ways. I asked them — all Democrats from bluish cities in states that backed Trump — not about the president but about what they wished national politicians were focused on.
Their answers were instructive, starting with climate change and its impact on coastal cities and the interior heartland alike. They stressed how little help they are getting to repair their local infrastructure, which is underfinanced because city budgets are heavily committed to core local responsibilities, particularly public safety.
They talked about the housing crisis, better schools, broadband access and a wish for greater federal commitment to local economic development plans.
“There is a certain type of person who lives for solving problems, [who] just likes to check stuff off a list and get stuff done that they think is important to get done, and that is what city government is all about,” said Mayor Eric Johnson of Dallas. “It’s not about the stuff that I think fills up the news cycle, the social stuff.
“Being mayor,” he continued, “is about delivering water service and making sure you have parks for your families to play in. It’s very practical stuff, it’s very important stuff.” Voters “have gotten so tired of Washington not really doing a whole lot.”
Climate change was at the top of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s list because his city of St. Petersburg, Fla., is “a peninsula on a peninsula . . . one of the most at-risk cities and regions in the country, and in the world.” His questions: “How do we adapt to the rising seas we are already seeing, and what do we do going forward?”
It’s hard to get farther from the coast than Lincoln, Neb., but the city’s mayor, Leirion Gaylor Baird, agreed with Kriseman. “We don’t have time to debate the causes of severe weather or man-made climate change effects that are causing historic floods across the state of Nebraska and impacting the well fields that my city depends on for our water supply,” she said. “We really need to partner with the federal government to fix our well fields, to address our levies, to build more resilient communities.”
Climate also mattered to Mayor Lauren McLean of Boise, Idaho, but she highlighted housing affordability.
“We need help with the housing trust fund to make it possible to address housing for those that are unhoused,” McLean said. “We need help with funding and policy innovation to address homelessness in different ways, to care for them, to connect [them to] services, to move them into a shelter and into a home.”
And from Montgomery, Ala., Mayor Steven Reed said his city had “a lot of ideas, a lot of initiatives” to spur economic growth, “but not a lot of support.”
“When you’re not in a growth center, then you need probably more federal support than maybe some of the larger cities might need,” Reed said, urging an expansion of the Community Development Block Grant program and infrastructure investment that includes “fiber,” high-speed Internet for the places that lack it.
The many other practical things these mayors had to say offered hope for our country in the long run. But they also inspired a longing.
As Trump’s lawyers made their case against impeachment on Saturday with a mixture of bombast, half-truth and outright falsehood, I was struck that there was one assertion by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) that they would never challenge. Schiff had observed that you could always trust the president to “do what’s right for Donald Trump.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who cared about our problems, and not just himself?