I’ve little to add to the commentary on President Trump’s news conference Thursday, but I do want to take the opportunity to focus on a particular answer he gave, as it underscores a theme of mine: He only knows how to campaign; he knows not how to govern.
He’s very, very good at the former; he’s clueless on the latter. A similar problem afflicts his Republican caucus, though it is slightly more nuanced.
The exchange in question is shocking, or would be if we weren’t already inured to the cray-cray. I’m talking about his “They friends of yours?” question to the African American reporter April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks when she asked him whether he’d include the Congressional Black Caucus in his plans to help minority communities in urban areas.
Understandably, there’s a lot of focus on the racism implied by his response to Ryan, his weird ask of her to set up a meeting with the CBC, his fabricated story of how Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) wouldn’t meet with him and his misleading claims on how great he did with African American voters in the election (in fact, he got the lowest African American share of any Republican not running against an African American presidential candidate, i.e., Barack Obama).
But I’d like to focus instead on his “answer” to the question:
As far as the inner cities, as you know, I was very strong on the inner cities during the campaign.
I think it’s probably what got me a much higher percentage of the African American vote than a lot of people thought I was going to get. We did, you know, much higher than people thought I was going to get. And I was honored by that, including the Hispanic vote, which was also much higher.
And by the way, if I might add, including the women’s vote, which was much higher than people thought I was going to get. So, we are going to be working very hard on the inner cities, having to do with education, having to do with crime. We’re going to try and fix as quickly as possible — you know, it takes a long time.
It’s taken a hundred years and more for some of these places to evolve and they evolved, many of them, very badly. But we’re going to be working very hard on health and health care, very, very hard on education, and also we’re going to be working in a stringent way, in a very good way, on crime.
You go to some of these inner city places and it’s so sad when you look at the crime. You have people — and I’ve seen this, and I’ve sort of witnessed it — in fact, in two cases I have actually witnessed it. They lock themselves into apartments, petrified to even leave, in the middle of the day.
They’re living in hell. We can’t let that happen. So, we’re going to be very, very strong. That’s a great question and — and it’s a — it’s a very difficult situation because it’s been many, many years. It’s been festering for many, many years. But we have places in this country that we have to fix.
We have to help African American people that, for the most part, are stuck there. Hispanic American people. We have Hispanic American people that are in the inner cities and their living in hell. I mean, you look at the numbers in Chicago. There are two Chicagos, as you know.
There’s one Chicago that’s incredible, luxurious and all — and safe. There’s another Chicago that’s worse than almost any of the places in the Middle East that we talk, and that you talk about, every night on the newscasts. So, we’re going to do a lot of work on the inner cities.
I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities. Okay?
Okay, the words “education,” “health” (and “health care”) and “crime” are in there, along with the campaign references (again, that’s his only strong suit) and some amped up fear factor. But this is pure, wilted word salad. There’s not one idea, one policy, that might actually help people in places with insufficient opportunities, harmful infrastructure and inadequate housing, education and health care.
Unfortunately, there’s a logic to that, which brings up my slightly more nuanced point. While Trump knows no policy, his Republican caucus knows one policy very well: tax cuts for the wealthy. And they’ve got a variety of plans cooked up to deliver the goods to their well-heeled funders, including cuts in the high-end personal tax rates, business tax rates and, in repealing the Affordable Care Act, the upper-income taxes that support health reform.
How does this relate to the urban word salad?
Once you cut trillions in revenue flowing to the Treasury, you’ve got to make some show of offsetting the budget deficits you’re inflating. They won’t touch defense, and while congressional Republicans would love to go after Social Security and Medicare, the president might block them on that. So you must whack everything else, which includes Medicaid (including the Obamacare expansion which has covered millions of low-income people in urban areas), food stamps and all the discretionary programs that support poor and moderate income people, including those in inner cities. I’m talking housing programs, urban infrastructure, training programs, college assistance and more. We’ve shown that 62 percent of the spending cuts in recent House Republican budgets fall on programs that serve low- and moderate-income families.
So, I understand why the president had nothing to say in that answer. But I can’t overstate the importance of focusing not only on the outrage but also on the absence of any substantive ideas behind the rhetoric.