President Donald Trump has been no friend to Baltimore. In fact, whenever the word Baltimore comes out of his mouth it is usually followed by some sort of public lashing, whether he’s calling former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake a joke, its citizens thugs or its police force ineffective.
But the Rev. Donte L. Hickman is scheduled meet with the president at the White House Wednesday, is looking beyond the rhetoric of the past and hoping the president will put Baltimore on a pedestal and hold the city up as a place where urban blight can be transformed to opportunity. Mayor Catherine Pugh, who has approached President Trump before, is keeping her fingers crossed for a healthy infusion of money to help upgrade Baltimore’s old and weathered infrastructure. Both want to jump on the Trump bandwagon as he promotes opportunity zones — poor areas carved out for special tax breaks for revitalization under the legislation he and the Republican Congress passed last year.
Color us skeptical.
Mr. Trump has had pretty much nothing but criticism for Baltimore and has shown a repeated willingness to exploit its social ills to the delight of his political base. Why give him a platform to do that again? Mr. Hickman had initially invited Mr. Trump to Baltimore, but the location changed because of scheduling problems. Do we imagine that Mr. Trump would have used the backdrop of East Baltimore’s abandoned houses and blight to convey a message of compassion, understanding and hope? Or would he seize on the opportunity to blame Democrats?
Now the Baltimore delegation will go to the White House and the visit looks more like a photo opportunity for the president than a boon for the city. That is what happened when several presidents of historically black colleges and universities met with the president at the White House last year, much to the disgruntlement of many students, faculty and alumni. Since then the colleges have made small strides, such as moving HBCU initiatives to the executive office from U.S. Department of Education. But the schools have not seen significant increases in funding or gotten true change from their efforts and support.
There are other reasons not to trust Mr. Trump. He has talked about the devastation of inner cities since the campaign trail. But the tone is sensational and filled with oversimplified generalizations. Inner cities are “disasters” and “like living in hell,” he has said. The message, once again, seemed more a reminder to his base about the perceived problems of inner-city America than to extending a true helping hand to African-American communities. Let’s also not forget the lengthy housing discrimination suit the federal government brought against him and his father in the 1970s detailing evidence that they refused to rent to black tenants.
We understand that some of Baltimore’s neighborhoods are in dire need. Mr. Hickman wrote in a Facebook post that people in Baltimore couldn’t afford to wait for an administration they like to be elected and should seize opportunities for investment. “Whatever vitriol we have for this presidential administration should be manifested in our determination to do what we can to restore our broken city,” he said.
And he is right, the city just shouldn’t sit on the sidelines. Baltimore has just as much right to federal funding opportunities as any other community. We understand that Mr. Hickman is willing to try whatever he can to improve the community where his church resides. But there are ways to do that without opening the community to Trumpian derision.
The antipathy many people in the community around Reverend Hickman’s church feel for President Trump isn’t just politics. Mr. Trump has spewed endless vitriol about African Americans during his tenure in office. He called Lebron James and black journalists stupid. He attacked former White House assistant Omarosa Manigault Newman on Twitter calling her a "crazed, crying low life" and a "dog.” He called African nations “s***hole countries” and said that Congresswoman Maxine Waters has a very low IQ. He said there were “very fine people” among both the white supremacists and protesters in Charlottesville last year.
If Mr. Hickman insists on meeting with the president, he should also call him out for his verbal abuses of African Americans and not make the same mistake as black pastors who met with Mr. Trump in August about prison reform. They lauded him as being pro-black.
Perhaps, Mr. Trump will prove us wrong and Wednesday’s meeting will help and not hurt Baltimore. If Kim Kardashian was able to convince him to support criminal justice reform, who knows? We’d be delighted to be proven wrong, but with Mr. Trump’s record, we are deeply wary.
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