Every time President Trump talks about blacks in America, it sounds something like this:
"You go to some of these inner city places and it's so sad when you look at the crime. You know, 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."
That is what he said last week during a 77-minute joust with journalists on a wide range of issues. That view of life for the overwhelming majority of blacks in this country reveals just one more area in which his grasp of facts is frighteningly AWOL. And it makes my blood boil that he is so willfully ignorant.
Until the weekend, he apparently did not know how to get in touch with the Congressional Black Caucus, a legislative organization that has been around since 1971 when blacks began to be elected to Congress in meaningful numbers. But the president didn't know how to find them over in the Capitol and went so far as to seek help from a black reporter inquiring about his urban agenda. "Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?" he asked April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks. Ms. Ryan insisted that she was a reporter, not an appointments secretary, and Mr. Trump was deservedly criticized and ridiculed.
If Mr. Trump did not take himself so seriously, that press conference would be laughable; in fact, one might have thought he was doing an extended routine for "Saturday Night Live," the NBC comedy show he claims to hate now but has hosted in the past.
But he was dead serious — and, on many points, dead wrong. He continues to state as fact that which can easily be proven otherwise, like a terrorist attack in Sweden that never happened. Despite the assessment of top Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain that "in many respects this administration is in disarray," he insists otherwise. "The administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," he said at the White House session that Rush Limbaugh praised as "one of the most effective press conferences I have ever seen." Out on the campaign stump — yes, he's running for re-election already! — the president stuck to his script. "The White House is running so smoothly," he told an adoring crowd in Melbourne, Fla., as he touted "our incredible progress in making America great again."
The effect of Mr. Trump's first 30 days in office is quite unsettling. But those of us on the outside looking in must remain focused. It is too easy to be distracted by the million different ways in which this president has managed to create chaos as he upsets an official Washington that, admittedly, needs some shaking.
While Mr. Trump spins yarns, marginalizes media and demonizes judges who disagree with him, our U.S. Constitution and our even older tradition of robust dissent will be our salvation. But we must not become so obsessed with fact checking that we lose sight of issues that should be addressed no matter who occupies the White House.
Life for most black Americans and most Hispanic Americans is not what Mr. Trump sees, but there is no dispute that some neighborhoods where blacks and Hispanics are concentrated are in trouble. Baltimore has been averaging one homicide a day so far this year — and 80 percent of the dead are black males.
Rep. Elijah Cummings says, "I've got to work with this president." I'll leave that to him and to the caucus and other organizations that speak to the president in the normal course of business. They can press him on his promise that "I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities."
In the meantime, people like you and me must figure out what we can do separate and apart from the government to try to fix what's fixable in the places we live. I welcome your ideas.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.