Better to have a few rats than to be one

Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings, the House Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

In case anyone missed it, the president of the United States had some choice words to describe Maryland’s 7th congressional district on Saturday morning. Here are the key phrases: “no human being would want to live there,” it is a “very dangerous & filthy place,” “Worst in the USA” and, our personal favorite: It is a “rat and rodent infested mess.” He wasn’t really speaking of the 7th as a whole. He failed to mention Ellicott City, for example, or Baldwin or Monkton or Prettyboy, all of which are contained in the sprawling yet oddly-shaped district that runs from western Howard County to southern Harford County. No, Donald Trump’s wrath was directed at Baltimore and specifically at Rep. Elijah Cummings, the 68-year-old son of a former South Carolina sharecropper who has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996.

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run," which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector-general recently called “a ticking time bomb."

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In pointing to the 7th, the president wasn’t hoping his supporters would recognize landmarks like Johns Hopkins Hospital, perhaps the nation’s leading medical center. He wasn’t conjuring images of the U.S. Social Security Administration, where they write the checks that so many retired and disabled Americans depend upon. It wasn’t about the beauty of the Inner Harbor or the proud history of Fort McHenry. And it surely wasn’t about the economic standing of a district where the median income is actually above the national average. No, he was returning to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments. It was only surprising that there wasn’t room for a few classic phrases like “you people” or “welfare queens” or “crime-ridden ghettos” or a suggestion that the congressman “go back” to where he came from.

This is a president who will happily debase himself at the slightest provocation. And given Mr. Cummings’ criticisms of U.S. border policy, the various investigations he has launched as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, his willingness to call Mr. Trump a racist for his recent attacks on the freshmen congresswomen, and the fact that “Fox & Friends” had recently aired a segment critical of the city, slamming Baltimore must have been irresistible in a Pavlovian way. Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action.

As heartening as it has been to witness public figures rise to Charm City’s defense on Saturday, from native daughter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.

Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

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