One of Donald Trump’s most obnoxious rhetorical strategies is to turn every question he gets about black Americans into a diatribe about America’s “inner cities,” as if all black people live in cities and all city residents are black.
Don’t bother telling Trump that there are thousands of American cities, each with its own character and culture, its unique triumphs and tribulations. To him, “inner cities” are “ghettos,” hopeless wastelands overrun by crime, violence and decay. They’re “devastating,” “a disaster … in every way possible.” Perhaps most incredulously, he has pronounced that African-Americans “are living in hell.”
I concede that Trump may know a thing or two about the experience of people of color in American cities. After all, he used his father’s money to purchase apartment buildings in New York City, then systematically denied the applications of would-be black tenants and forced existing black renters from their units. If “inner cities” are Hell, does that make Trump Satan?
But Trump is wrong in his alarmist and dehumanizing claims that America’s cities are uniformly desolate, and wrong in his vague pronouncements about how to address the challenges cities face. He offers a mix of predictable conservative pabulum, terrifying neo-fascist garbage and completely incoherent prescriptions like “we will give people economics.”
Our city, New Haven, offers the perfect rebuttal to Trump’s claims. The city still faces challenges in crime, employment and education. But New Haven is surging, its economy is thriving and its neighborhoods are becoming livelier and more livable every day. And despite Trump’s insistence that “inner city” struggles are “the legacy of Democratic politicians,” New Haven’s resurgence was powered by an all-Democratic slate of city leaders.
Trump argues that cities like New Haven are “more dangerous than some war zones” — but in the past five years, New Haven’s crime rate has dropped dramatically. The Elm City (and the rest of the country) is safer than it’s been in decades. New Haven didn’t stop, frisk and profile its way to safety, as Trump recommends. The city invested in community policing tactics, bringing neighbors and cops together for Pizza with a Cop community dinners, paying officers to live in public housing and transitioning their patrol strategy from faceless cops in cars to neighborhood cops walking beats. They worked with schools to pioneer a program called Youth Stat that gave kids at risk of criminal activity access to resources and support, not just lectures and threats. As a result, crime is declining steadily.
Trump argues that “jobs are essentially nonexistent” in cities. But the unemployment rate in New Haven has dropped by more than a third in three short years, because the city has invested in job training, education and entrepreneurs. Mayor Harp created a wildly successful Small Business Academy; the city worked with the state to attract major employers in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries like Alexion Pharmaceuticals; small startups like SeeClickFix have seen booming growth; the community has leveraged its political power to convince Yale to hire 500 more New Haven residents.
“The education is a disaster,” Trump complains of urban America. But New Haven Public Schools has seen increased rates of graduation, college acceptance and college attendance. These gains didn’t come through school voucher schemes that would redirect public dollars to private schools, as Trump has proposed. They came because the city worked with Yale to launch the New Haven Promise program that guaranteed students a free education at a public college if they had a 3.0 GPA in high school. Schools also connected students to public services through the Boost! program, worked with parents to implement restorative discipline practices and expanded access to early childhood education.
There is still more to do. Many New Haveners, especially in communities of color, struggle — in part because of politicians who believe “wages are too high,” as Trump suggests, and landlords who quietly discriminate, as Trump did.
But Trump’s hyperbolic rhetoric on cities is wrong and racist. It undermines the incredible work that politicians, nonprofit leaders, teachers, business owners and community volunteers are doing to revitalize New Haven and other cities like it.
I dare Donald Trump to come to New Haven and see this Democrat-driven urban renaissance. I dare him to look in the eyes of the neighborhood activists in the Hill who have won affordable housing concessions from big developers, the parent activists who have catalyzed the push for restorative justice in New Haven Public Schools, the small business owners on Grand Avenue or Whalley Avenue or Howe Street who are creating jobs one by one. I dare him to tell them they are “living in hell.”
He would get the swift kick in the rear he richly deserves.
Fish Stark is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .