Did anybody recognize the country Donald Trump described in his inaugural address? Crime ridden inner cities? Rusting factories dotting the landscape? Drugs? And (my favorite) schools flush with cash that leave their students as empty of knowledge as when they went in. Schools flush with cash!
Well, it exists and it’s alive and well in the imagination of anybody who lives in a rural town or an ivory tower. Yes, there is inner city crime, but the story of urban life is that crime, especially violent crime, is down, way down. (Except in Chicago.) Yes, there is poverty but the biggest problem facing inner city neighborhoods in gentrification. That’s right, so many people want to move into the cities that poor people are being forced to move to the suburbs. And there’s drugs in the inner cities, but the opium epidemic is happening in the suburbs and meth is eating up the countryside. And here’s a news flash: American schools are great. If you remove the schools in the poorest town, American schools stack up equally to any school system in the world. The difference is that in the other developed countries, childhood poverty is almost unknown, but in America one out of five children grow up in poverty. Where there is poverty, there are bad schools. (Classic chicken and egg: we keep blaming the schools for poverty, but kids are poor before they get to school and when their parents drop out to get a job, it’s not because the school isn’t teaching them.)
So why all the gloom and doom? For one thing, Trump doesn’t know any better. Like his constituents, he lives in a bubble of cable news and physical isolation. He is isolated by his tower and his limousines, his constituents by their physical isolation. They see the one factory in their town is closed and rusting and they think every factory is closed. Yet jobs are going begging. But they are skilled jobs in construction and in manufacturing, where there is a shortage of skilled machine tool operators. There ought to be more training available for these jobs, government sponsored apprenticeships for example, but people have to be willing to sign up for them.
But to a larger measure than people are saying now, what Trump is doing is creating a straw man. If things aren’t nearly as bad as he says, he only has to change his speech to start taking credit for things he had nothing to do with. Next week he can start claiming that there is low crime in most cities—and he’d be right. Everyone will rush forward to remind the public that nothing has changed but Trump’s supporters hate the media and are confused by facts. They’ll give him credit. Immigration is a perfect example. President Obama was the deporter-in-chief. He announced early and acted aggressively on a plan to deport immigrants with criminal records. Trump started his campaign promising to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants. Gradually, that plan morphed into a plan to deport—you guessed it—immigrants with criminal records. The program is in place. Now all he has to do is take credit for it. He will.
It’s going to be phony baloney politics from a phony baloney president. Thank you Electoral College.