As a pastor of an inner-city church in Baltimore, I am appalled by the political theater and the knee-jerk cries of racism at the expense of people who are suffering from decades of neglect and poverty in urban America.
Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Manchin says no; White House fires back House Democrats find drug companies 'unjustified' in price hikes Your must-read holiday book list from members of Congress MORE (D-Md.) should be ashamed of his “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” of a congressional district. Cummings chairs the House Oversight Committee, which recently subpoenaed the personal emails and phone records of Trump, his staff and associates.
President Trump’s remarks set off a firestorm of reactions and remarks decrying racism. And just like that, once again many people got distracted and resorted to personal, petty and partisan politics and rhetoric rather than challenging the president or crafting a policy to address the abject poverty that continues to hamper Baltimore and other communities in the wealthiest country in the world.
I love Congressman Elijah Cummings. I hold him in high esteem. He has been my friend, a key supporter and a champion for the residents of Baltimore and beyond. I have worked with him and personally witnessed his help to enable young people to pay for college and his determination to bring jobs to the community and ensure that people are gainfully employed.
I have walked side by side with him through the streets of Baltimore during the uprising after Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. In my estimation, Congressman Cummings is a man of great intelligence and integrity.
Nevertheless, Trump’s tweet really highlights something bigger than Cummings, something that we will miss if we get distracted by charges of racism that can blind us to the reality of the unconscionable living conditions in parts of urban America.
It would be too easy to give in to the tone and provocative rhetoric of the president. Instead, let’s address the difficult but necessary issue of poverty that affects working whites, African Americans and Latinos alike in inner-city communities.
It seems we have forgotten about America’s distressed communities. Or perhaps we’ve become too familiar and numb to them.
How can we be more upset about President Trump’s rhetoric than about the reality of people living in blighted communities with derelict school facilities, lead-based water, health disparities, food deserts and a lack of quality and affordable housing?
For decades urban communities have been placed on the back burner of economic empowerment. President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team Perdue proposes election police force in Georgia To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill MORE could’ve helped the inner cities, but he was wedded to the outdated economic policies of Robert Rubin. President Obama could’ve helped inner city America, but he was wedded to the outdated economic policies of Larry Summers. President Bush could’ve helped inner city America, but he was wedded to a war economy.
The United States has spent $5.9 trillion in wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001. But there is a war going on in Baltimore and cities like it across America, and we need to develop an economic policy that builds up Main Street the way we bailed out Wall Street.
To President Trump’s credit, he signed the Opportunity Zones Investment Act, which incentivizes private investors to invest in distressed communities. But that private investment needs public subsidy to compliment it to make the policy work for the communities it was intended to help. Economic failures, not racism, are the principle cause of poverty in America.
What a tragedy it would be if after this news cycle passes, nothing more is done to restore people and rebuild properties in Baltimore and urban centers across America. What a tragedy it would be to get distracted by the vitriolic rhetoric of the president rather than developing a constructive bipartisan economic policy to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of our cities and underserved communities.
Human beings are crying out for help. But I wonder: Who’s listening and who really cares?
Bishop Donté L. Hickman is pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.