When my sophomore students and I watched highlights of the president’s first State of the Union speech last week, we heard Mr. Trump say: “If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.” Afterward, one student said, “he doesn’t really believe that we can achieve anything, and he definitely doesn’t want to help us achieve that!” She saw through his rhetoric. Despite working hard, the policies that Mr. Trump promotes are designed to ensure that my Baltimore City kids do not achieve their dreams.
Mr. Trump offers platitudes about caring for our youth or lifting people from poverty to prosperity, but his actions have shown over and over that he doesn’t really care. In his spring budget proposal, he provided flat funding for Title I, the biggest federal education program to support high poverty schools, while completely cutting the 21st Century Community Learning center, which funds after-school programs in for 1.8 million poor children in Baltimore and cities across the country. He also proposed eliminating the Community Development Block Grant Program, which helps cities like Baltimore provide affordable housing and living environments, as well as to expand economic opportunities, for those most in need; thousands of children in Baltimore are homeless, and Mr. Trump wanted to eliminate a program that could help their families have a home.
The Trump administration also issued rules to repeal standards for clean water and clean air, which will leave the young people in our country a dirtier environment. In his State of the Union, he praised dismantling the individual mandate in health care, which experts say will lead to soaring premiums that will make health care even harder for many Americans to attain. He also championed the GOP tax bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will add nearly $1.5 trillion to our debt.
Who is going to pay these debts? Our youth — and especially the most vulnerable kids. Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress are going to attack entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security that help families make sure impoverished kids have what they need. By undermining the safety nets that many in cities like Baltimore rely on, he’s going to make it even harder for them to get ahead.
Mr. Trump said in his speech, “Our task is to respect [the American people], to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.” But his rhetoric has rarely reflected this respect for all Americans. Our president has consistently been divisive, racist and sexist. He has said that it is OK to assault women, and he supported a Senate candidate who was accused of sexual misconduct toward girls as young as 14. He has repeatedly refused to condemn white supremacists who often find rallying cries in his words. When he’s not reciting a speech written by his speechwriter, there is hate, not respect, in his words.
The fact is, the State of our Union here in Baltimore is very different than the one Mr. Trump bragged about on the screen last week. He said that “together, we are building a safe, strong and proud America.” But Baltimore is not really part of that togetherness that he envisions.
On the day that Mr. Trump shared his agenda for the nation, students came to my school and were promptly sent home. Our building’s heat was again not working, and classrooms were too frigid for learning. Baltimore City Schools’ buildings are old, as is the infrastructure that supports them. This winter, the consequences of antiquated boilers and damaged buildings made national news, but it wasn’t news to us. They are just one of the obstacles that our students face every day.
As we move into this election year, voters must demand that our candidates and elected officials do more than just talk about unity; we must demand that they work toward it.
Christina Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a social studies teacher at City Neighbors High School and teacher-in-residence at Teach Plus.