Read: Trump's EPA concludes environmental racism is real
When the Trump administration is not working to reduce health-care access for black Americans, it is taking steps that could make more of them sick. The president has sought to undo a range of environmental protections, even as a study of pollution by Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency found that “results at national, state, and county scales all indicate that non-Whites tend to be burdened disproportionately to Whites.”
The most potent weapon against policies like these, the guarantor of political rights, is the ability to vote. That has also historically been a fragile right for African Americans, often deprived or eroded. Since taking office, Trump has made it harder for black citizens to exercise their right to vote. The Justice Department switched its position in gerrymandering and voter-ID lawsuits, supporting defendant states against plaintiffs challenging laws. Trump has also subscribed to conspiracy theories about massive numbers of illegal votes, all in service of stricter voter laws that depress minority turnout.
Worse, perhaps, than all of these concrete policy effects has been the symbolic message that Trump has sent, deeming African Americans second-class citizens. This has taken several forms in the past month alone: his suggestion that the black and brown women of the “squad” of progressive Democratic representatives “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” (all four are American citizens, and all but one are native-born); his ratification of a “Send her back” chant at a rally; his attacks on Cummings; and his consistent labeling of people and communities of color as “infested” or “infestations.” These are all, as my colleague Adam Serwer has written, manifestations of “the president’s belief that American citizenship is conditional for people of color, who should be grateful we are even allowed to be here.”
Read: The end of civil rights
Baltimore certainly has its struggles. Since Gray’s death, the murder rate in the city has surged. The mayor resigned amid corruption allegations in May, the second mayor to step down in a scandal in a decade. Parts of the city struggle with intense poverty. But blaming Cummings for this misses the point in two different ways. The median income in Cummings’s district is, as Nicholas notes, above the national average. Beyond that, Trump seems to misunderstand Cummings’s role: He’s a United States representative, which means that the oversight that has enraged Trump is very much his responsibility, but he is not the mayor, which means that local governance is not within his ambit.
Besides, Trump in 2016 promised the nation that when it came to problems like poverty and squalor in Baltimore, “I alone can fix it.” He specifically criticized Barack Obama for not doing enough for the city. Now, however, Trump wants Baltimore and other major cities—as well as hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico—to fix themselves. When he travels the country, Trump sticks as much as possible to the white, rural districts that elected him, while avoiding the urban and minority-heavy ones that spurned him.