Baltimore is one of the most black cities in the US. President Trump knows it. Bernie knows it. Most importantly, the voters know it. Answering Trump’s criticism by shouting “racist!” is both bad politics and bad for the city.
Maryland’s largest city has the second-highest murder rate in the nation, behind St. Louis, Missouri. In a city of 600,000, over 300 people will have been shot by the end of the year for the fifth year running. If it were a country, it would be one of the three deadliest in the world.
Thus, when President Donald Trump called it a “rodent infested mess” that “ranks last in almost every major category” he is on strong ground – while the Democrats who have run the city since 1967, and Congressman Elijah Cummings, who has been in his post for 23 years and 12 elections, are vulnerable.
To sum up: liberals in the media and politics have acted like emotionally incontinent truth deniers, who have played the “race card” to deflect debate, living up to a frequent accusation against them. They have chosen to side with the corrupt and murderous status quo, appearing actively unmotivated to help the people of Baltimore – whose neighborhoods they will never visit – because they are more interested in political point-scoring and shooting the messenger.
There were better responses available. The liberal establishment could have chosen to tactically agree with Trump, and say something like “we must do better.” Or it could have pointed to the historic socio-economic decline throughout America that has produced such pockets of poverty and crime. Even just letting the comments go would have been better than doubling down or circling the wagons.
With fifteen months until the presidential election, have the Democrats adopted such a rigid mindset, perhaps due to the proverbial Trump Derangement Syndrome, that they have lost not only nuanced political acumen, but also basic emotional intelligence? The handling of the issue by the potential nominees during the upcoming debates on Tuesday and Wednesday will be telling.
I think there is something deeper at work here, too. The reason for such a rabid teeth-baring reaction is repressed shame. When Senator Bernie Sanders called parts of Baltimore worse than North Korea, the Democrats agreed, but now they have to contort themselves into believing that never happened, and the doublethink is causing them torment. The inability of local Democratic administrations to preserve their liberalism while maintaining law and order, the embarrassment at seeing the local political machine get more and more votes as the districts under their control get poorer and more depopulated while wealthier people flee, must rankle. What we are seeing, to use an ugly word, is butthurt.
The way out of this situation is for Democrats to drop some of their dogma, to examine their own record in power in such cities, and to be more honest with themselves and the voters. A similar opportunity arose when the city was last in the national spotlight, during the Freddie Gray riots in 2015, but judging by the worsening situation in Baltimore, chaotic and incompetent decisions taken then were based on ideology, rather than facing the truth or trying to achieve results.
Self-reflection is a painful process, but could reap rewards both for Democrats in 2020, and for dwellers of Maryland’s 7th congressional district long after that.