Elijah Cummings

Congressman Elijah Cummings, shown here running an April 2 meeting as chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, was attacked over the weekend by President Trump in a series of tweets. Trump denigrated Cummings' Baltimore-area congressional district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” and claimed that the district is “considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States.” 

Donald Trump is not the first Republican politician to condemn an American city. But with his dismissal of Baltimore as a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," Trump is providing a particularly crude example of this foul politics.

In an effort to trash House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who is examining the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump trashed the city that Cummings represents as a "very dangerous & filthy place."

Baltimore, the president tweeted, is so indefensible that "no human being would want to live there."

In fact, more than 600,000 Americans live there.

So what's going on here?

It happens that Cummings is an African-American congressman, and Trump goes out of his way to attack people of color who serve in Congress.

It also happens that Baltimore is a city where the overwhelming majority of its residents are people of color, and Trump has a long history of smearing communities, countries and continents where people of color live.

Trump is a racist. And a xenophobe. And that is truly indefensible.

But Trump is also a practitioner of one of the cruelest forms of politics: the deliberate demeaning of communities where people who do not agree with him politically reside. In this regard, he maintains a penchant that has become rather too well established in the Republican Party.

Madisonians know something about Republican politicians demeaning cities that back Democrats. We are not talking about harmless jibes, like that of former Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who took a poke at the state’s capital city with his 1978 line: “Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality.” Madisonians soon embraced the criticism as a compliment and, by 2013, former Mayor Paul Soglin proposed to make the line — with a necessary spatial correction — the city’s motto: “77 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality.”

Other attacks have been cruder. When former Gov. Scott Walker learned last year that Soglin was pondering a statewide bid, the Madison-bashing governor blew up. "The last thing we need is more Madison in our lives,” growled the governor, who claimed that "businesses have left and murders have gone up" in Madison. In fact, Madison had (and has) low unemployment and a low crime rate.

Walker was lying in order to paint a city that did not agree with him politically in a bad light. Congressman Sean Duffy, a Republican from northern Wisconsin, did the same thing in 2016. When the close results of that year’s presidential election in Wisconsin were being recounted, Duffy griped on Fox News about the meticulous way in which Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell was conducting the review of votes cast in Madison and surrounding communities. “It’s a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy complained. He then described Madison as a “progressive, liberal, communist community.”

Soglin dismissed Duffy as a “moron” and then corrected himself, explaining: “I should have said he is a liar and a charlatan.”

This editorial page offered the congressman a political geography lesson. “It is true that Madison and Dane County reject Trump. But it is also true that many towns, villages, cities and counties in Duffy’s 7th District reject Trump,” our editorial noted. “While a clear majority of voters in Dane County opposed the Republican presidential ticket this year, so too did majorities of voters in counties such as Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas — all of which Duffy is supposed to represent.”

We concluded: “If Duffy was attacking Dane County, he was also attacking Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties. If Duffy was attacking Madison, he was also attacking 7th District towns, villages and cities that continue to embrace Wisconsin’s progressive values and immense potential as America’s laboratory of democracy. And, for that, apologies are due. No member of Congress should so disregard and disrespect his own constituents and his state.”

It is the job of newspaper editorial pages to come to the defense of communities that are unfairly attacked by members of Congress and governors and presidents. This is one of the many reasons why maintaining local newspapers with strong editorial voices is vital. And we tip our hat today to one of the greatest newspapers in the nation, The Baltimore Sun, which responded brilliantly to the president’s attacks on the city. 

“It’s not hard to see what’s going on here,” the paper’s editorial page declared. “The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream.”

True. But truer still was the editorial’s concluding observation that “while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are 'good people' among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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