Less than a week into his term, President Donald Trump is rattling his sabers—not at a foreign power, but at a U.S. metropolis. There is, he says, “American carnage” unfolding in our nation’s inner cities (“like living in hell”) and he intends to use the full weight of the federal government to crack down on it.
“If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24 percent from 2016), I will send in the Feds!” Trump tweeted earlier this week, citing the same crime numbers that that Bill O’Reilly had just rambled off on Fox News.
Trump’s meaning isn’t immediately clear, since federal law enforcement agencies are already on the ground in Chicago. Several years ago, Justice Department officials and federal law enforcement agencies—including the FBI, ATF, and DEA—began beefing up their efforts to help combat illicit drugs and staunch the tide of guns in the Windy City.
“The statement is so broad. I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the next day.
Pressed on what, exactly, Trump has in mind, his press secretary Sean Spicer said, and I quote: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The president was upset upon “turning on the television and seeing Americans get killed by shootings,” Spicer continued. “What he wants to do is provide the resources of the federal government, and it can span a bunch of things. There’s no one thing.”
Taken on its face, however, Trump appears to have threatened to supplant those multi-agency partnerships, put in place by the Obama administration, if local authorities can’t reign in the gang violence most prevalent in the city’s southern and westerly corridors. Trump’s ominous Putinistic warning sounded more like a promise to use military personnel as a local policing force. Situating National Guard troops on street corners will not fix the problem—short- or long-term. Then too, for the record, the president has no legal authority to send federal troops into Chicago—overriding local and state law enforcement—without first declaring martial law and suspending local authority. In its extreme, that means occupying a major U.S. city, federally imposed curfews, a suspension of civil rights and habeas corpus, and applying military justice to civilians—many of whom would be black teenage boys.
A man who lives from headline to headline, it is unlikely that Trump thought through what comes next. His shoot-first-aim-second, hyper-masculine approach does not demonstrate an appreciation for the rigors of the Constitution. Rather than re-imagine a government that partners and empowers, within days, he went from telling inaugural attendees, “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the People,” to vowing to send in the feds to stamp out violent crime in the nation’s third largest city.
Even the brickbats and bravado chucked during the presidential election fall short of the calamity that is the Trump administration. The long-promised pivot to a presidential posture never came. Instead, the newly sworn commander in chief is the same as he ever was, tweeting away and reportedly refusing to give up his private Android phone.
In what will go down as one of the most breathtakingly hard-spirited inaugural addresses ever delivered, the 45th president painted a decidedly dystopian picture of the country he is now sworn to lead. Devoid of hope, littered with nationalistic language, and divorced from any notion of our storied exceptionalism, Trump dispensed with the idea that he would embark on a charm offensive and, instead, later focused on how many people came to cheer his name.
Already, consent decree talks resulting from high profile civil-rights investigations have been delayed or halted. A page on the White House website, detailing the previous administration’s devotion to civil rights, was taken down and replaced with a one-sided commitment to support law enforcement.
It is particularly telling that Trump only sees black America in terms of poverty and violence. His answer to some of our most pressing maladies—unemployment and job discrimination, environmental justice, affordable housing, and broken schools—seems to only include more cops on the street.
It is also telling that Trump wants an investigation into phony claims of voter fraud. He attributes his 2.5 million popular vote loss to illegal voting in “urban areas,” according to Spicer.
It is no accident that Trump and his father were sued by the Justice Department for housing discrimination or that he later published a full-page ad, calling for the execution of five innocent black teenagers in New York. His disdain for African Americans was further demonstrated when he openly challenged the legitimacy of the first black president. And then, on the campaign trail, before predominantly white audiences, Trump erroneously suggested policies like “stop-and-frisk,” which disproportionately targets black people, “could save thousands of lives in a city like Chicago, just like it saved thousands of lives in New York.”
In fact, stops are down 95 percent in New York under its current mayor and crime has continued to drop, though Trump falsely insisted “murders are up” in his hometown in one debate.
Personnel is policy for this administration. Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson, two of his most prominently inept nominees have demonstrated less competence than outright ire for the agencies they hope to lead. Together with attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, a man of storied racial animus who once prosecuted voting rights activists, the appointments spell disaster for people living on the margins. Those nominations should come as no surprise, since the Breitbart wing of the White House—led by former chairman Steve Bannon—was installed. The news site, replete with the work of white nationalists, once had a tab dedicated to “black crime.”
Rather than look for ways to unify the country, as promised, and expand his political coalition, Trump seems committed to shrinking his tent and tossing it into a bonfire. He is deaf to the chorus of hard-working, college- and self-educated African Americans who live both in cities and suburbs. And, it seems, blind to the political might we could wield in the 2018 midterm.
Goaded on and scripted by those advisors, he has continued to fan the flames of racial divisiveness—with dark talk about voter fraud in cities, demonization of Muslims and wall building exploits. He says nothing about investing in decent schools or affordable housing.
There are significant issues at play in cities like Chicago, many unaddressed by prior administrations and representing a real opportunity for Trump if he actually gave a damn about the people who live there. Instead, he keeps suggesting he’ll send in an occupying army if necessary to keep “those people” away from his people.