Trump Says Black Communities Are 'in the Worst Shape They've Ever Been'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Donald Trump

The gaffe: Speaking to a nearly all-white crowd in rural Kenansville, North Carolina, Tuesday, Donald Trump reprised earlier statements about inner cities, with a twist. “We're going to rebuild our inner cities because our African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever," he said. “You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They're worse—I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities. And I think it's resonating.” As many people with a basic understanding of American history pointed out, this overlooks a couple other periods, including segregation, violent vote suppression, and the lifetime enslavement of millions of people forcibly brought to the U.S.

The defense: Trump is almost certainly not speaking literally here; he’s just trying to make the case that black voters should not continue to support the Democratic Party.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): Trump continues to say he’s courting black voters, and while his numbers have risen somewhat—from historically bad levels for a modern Republican—national polls suggest they’re still not especially strong. This comment is mostly pointlessly dumb hyperbole, though many African Americans understandably took unkindly to Trump’s previous suggestions that black communities are uniformly inner-city dens of violence and ignorance.

The lesson: Don’t take history lessons from a man who can’t even remember the day of the September 11 attacks correctly.