Robert Woodson has devoted his life to fighting inner-city poverty, but he wasn’t one of those accusing President Trump of racism over his blast at “rat and rodent-infested” living conditions in Baltimore. Far from it.
“I don’t think the president’s racist. I think he’s honest,” said Mr. Woodson, a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient who heads the Woodson Center in Washington, D.C. “As I tweeted out, he’s rude, crude and true.”
As Democrats and media figures continue to accuse Mr. Trump of racism for his broadside at “dangerous & filthy” Baltimore, black conservatives like Mr. Woodson have come to the president’s defense, accusing critics of attempting to deflect attention from the wretched conditions in urban areas long run by Democrats.
“The president is raising a legitimate issue, that the conditions all over this country in low-income black neighborhoods that have been controlled by Democrats for the past 40 to 50 years have gotten worse for the people living there, but not for their representatives,” said Mr. Woodson. “They have personally prospered.”
Derrick Wilburn, executive director of Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives, said that “what President Trump said is true,” but that Democrats representing inner-city areas want to avoid that conversation.
“If you were a Democrat helping to run inner-city Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, St. Louis, take your pick, and you did not do everything in your power to deflect attention away from the results your policies have produced, you’re a fool,” Mr. Wilburn said.
The racism issue has divided largely along partisan lines. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found 51% of voters say they think Mr. Trump is a racist — 8% of Republicans, 56% of independents, and 86% of Democrats — while 91% of Republicans said he isn’t racist.
Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, has criticized Mr. Trump in the past, condemning the “racially offensive language” of an earlier tweet telling four minority Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix” the countries they came from.
This time, however, Mr. Scott told Fox News, “There’s no doubt that I don’t find his tweets to have been racially motivated. I think we should take the high road and spend more time talking about how to deal with the failed policies of the left, frankly.”
Republican businessman Herman Cain said, “First of all, the president is not a racist,” but that Democrats, “instead of focusing on rats, they want to focus on race.”
They pointed to the president’s Opportunity Zones initiative, part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which provides tax breaks for companies to invest unrealized capital gains into low-income rural and urban areas.
“People in poverty aren’t getting help they desperately need, and the exact opposite is happening because of the president’s Opportunity Zones,” Mr. Scott said.
Star Parker, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, said the president’s tweet has drawn attention not only to the Baltimore district represented by Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, but to the 8,700 “very, very sick” zip codes where people are “living in rat-infested, government-owned housing.”
“So the fact that the president is pointing to this challenge in our country is very, very encouraging, because once you have attention to a problem, you might actually try to solve it,” Ms. Parker said. “This is a conversation that’s long overdue, and this is a conversation Donald Trump is bringing to the forefront. In his inaugural, he said he wanted to fix the inner cities, and this is part of his plan.”
Others pointed to the improving economic conditions for blacks under the Trump administration. Black unemployment hit last year a record low 5.9 percent — Hispanic and Asian unemployment also fell to record lows — while wages reached a 10-year high in May.
“Trump’s policies are working in the black community,” said Mr. Wilburn, a fellow at the Centennial Institute in Lakewood, Colorado. “The statistics are all going in the right direction in terms of employment, workforce participation, household indebtedness. Virtually all of the federally measured household economic statistics are improving under this president’s policies.”
As a result, he said, “they can’t attack him on policy, so all they can attack him on is, ‘he’s a racist.’ It’s a desperate attempt to hang on to a voter bloc.”
That message runs counter to the position adopted by commentators like CNN’s Don Lemon, who referred during this week’s Democratic presidential debates to Mr. Trump’s “racist rhetoric” and “racist tweets attacking Baltimore.”
Mr. Trump fired back by tweeting that “in fact I am ‘the least racist person in the world.’ Perhaps someone should explain to Don that he is supposed to be neutral, unbiased & fair….”
Conservatives point out that Mr. Trump is known for taking on his critics, whatever their race. His July 27 tweet about the abject poverty in Mr. Cummings’ congressional district came after the congressman erupted at Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan over conditions at the border.
Baltimore, which has lost about 3% of its population since the 2015 riots, has a 22% poverty rate, the second-highest violent crime rate, and the worst homicide rate of the 50 largest cities in 2017. Even Mr. Cummings said in 1999 that parts of the city were “drug-infested.”
If calling Mr. Trump a racist brings attention to Baltimore’s plight, then so be it, Ms. Parker said.
“They can call someone whatever they want to,” she said. “If calling him a racist helped the problem, then I hope they continue to call him racist. Keep calling him a racist so that people will focus on what he’s saying, which is: This is unacceptable in this country.”