Trump's convenient target

Our view: Is the White House serious about helping Baltimore reduce crime or prosper? Don’t count on it

On Tuesday, Baltimore got a double-barreled reality check about its relationship with President Donald Trump. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young broke bread with Trump adviser Reed Cordish to plead the case for greater federal investment in the city — and left cheerily optimistic, telling a reporter Mr. Cordish took “great notes.” What Mr. Young didn’t know at the time was that earlier in the day, when an opportunity to make such an investment in Baltimore was readily available, the White House took a pass with Attorney General Jeff Sessions announcing a national crime-fighting initiative to “more effectively investigate and prosecute violent criminals” in 12 cities, none of which turned out to be located on the Patapsco River.

How completely unsurprising.

Pardon our skepticism but pretty much everything Mr. Trump has said about Baltimore, first as a candidate for president, later as president-elect and up to today, has been off the mark and designed largely to stir fear, distrust and anger among his supporters. You can look it up. It started during the Republican candidate debates in 2015 when he suggested that Baltimore had roving gangs of illegal immigrants wreaking havoc on its streets which, of course, it didn’t and still doesn’t. It continued during his acceptance speech at the GOP National Convention last year when he claimed Baltimore had suffered a 60 percent increase in killings the previous year when homicides actually fell slightly in 2015. He even once wrote on Twitter that had he been dropped into Baltimore during the Freddie Gray unrest, he would “fix it fast.” He never explained exactly how.

Want to scare Americans into fearing the “carnage” on the streets of the nation’s urban centers as Mr. Trump did in his inaugural address? Trot out Baltimore and either overstate or misstate what’s going on there. Want to actually fix the problems that exist in a city with too much poverty, too few jobs, aging infrastructure and a lingering distrust of its police department?

The only concrete action taken so far by the Trump administration is to object to the city’s consent decree, the justice department-enforced agreement that establishes policies and reforms that are starting to help the police department regain the community’s trust. Fortunately, a federal judge declined to go along with the Trump administration on that one.

Trump supporters point out that Baltimore isn’t exactly sending a lot of love the president’s way. The City Council’s first official act after the November election was to denounce Mr. Trump, passing a resolution condemning his “divisive and scapegoating rhetoric, rooted in hate and prejudice” on the eve of the then-president-elect’s first official visit to Charm City — for the Army-Navy game at M&T Bank Stadium, incidentally, not an outreach.

Mayor Catherine Pugh took the opposite tack, respectfully offering a Baltimore wish list in a letter discreetly offered during that same visit. Neither gesture amounted to much.

And isn’t that the point? We’ve seen little evidence that President Trump has much sympathy for the plight of the nation’s cities — beyond scaring people about roving gangs of immigrants. Mr. Cordish, the son of Baltimore developer David Cordish, may be better positioned than most to understand the city’s needs, but then so is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Did that get Baltimore into the National Public Safety Partnership or even sympathy over the consent decree? No, it did not. So good luck, Mr. Cordish, making headway in an administration that sees Baltimore mostly in apocalyptic terms in order to use it as a symbol of urban dysfunction and decay and the means to rally a political base already fearful of minorities.

The last time President Trump did meet with a leading Baltimore official, it didn’t exactly go well. In April, Rep. Elijah Cummings sat down with the president to plead with him to end his divisive hate speech and represent all Americans. What did Mr. Trump get out of the conversation? That the congressman thought he would go down as one of the great presidents in the nation’s history. Anyone who believes that one is probably a good candidate to purchase the Harbor Tunnel or Fort McHenry from that guy on the corner. The lesson here is that it doesn’t matter what Baltimore or its elected leaders do or say, in the end, the White House isn’t looking out for the city’s best interests. Maybe Mr. Cordish will come through, and maybe the “PSP” isn’t much of a crime-fighting program anyway, but Baltimoreans shouldn’t hold their breath for a lot of help from the White House. Mr. Trump just needs a bogeyman, and we serve his purposes nicely.

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