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At Cincinnati rally, Trump turns Baltimore violence victims into political pawns

Explicitly demeaning blue cities and states is now a feature of Trump’s campaign speeches.

Donald Trump And Mike Pence Hold “Keep America Great” Rally In Cincinnati
Trump speaks at a campaign rally at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. The president was critical of his Democratic rivals, condemning what he called “wasted money” that has contributed to blight in inner cities run by Democrats.
Photo by Andrew Spear/Getty Images

There was no repeat of the racist “send her back!” chants that rang out at President Donald Trump’s rally last month in North Carolina during his speech on Thursday evening in Cincinnati, Ohio. But in some ways, the scene was just as distasteful.

Trump made it more clear than ever before that he conceives of himself as the president of the states that voted for him, and little more. At various points during his speech in Cincinnati, he ridiculed living conditions and violent crime in blue “inner cities” like Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Arguably the lowest point in Trump’s speech came when he escalated his one-sided feud with elected officials representing one of America’s blackest cities by turning victims of gun violence in Baltimore into a political cudgel to wield against Democrats. The spectacle of the American president trying to score partisan points on violent crime in an American city was a highly unusual one and left Baltimore residents gobsmacked.

“The homicide rate in Baltimore is significantly higher than El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala,” Trump said, before asking for some audience input. “I believe it’s higher than — give me a place that you think is pretty bad. Give me a place. The guy says, ‘Afghanistan.’ I believe it’s higher than Afghanistan. In our country. Think of that. I believe — we’ll check the numbers, and if we’re wrong, they’ll tell us tomorrow. And it’ll be headlines — ‘Trump exaggerated!’”

Baltimore’s homicide rate of 55.8 per 100,000 people for 2018 is the second-highest in the country among large cities, behind St. Louis, and is indeed higher than Afghanistan, whereas of 2012 the rate was 6 people murdered per 100,000. But that’s not as explosive of a revelation as you might think. Afghanistan’s homicide rate is barely higher than America’s, whereas of 2017 the murder rate in cities was 5.3 per 100,000 people.

The cynical, partisan implication of Trump’s comments is that elected officials like Baltimore-area Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) are somehow responsible because they haven’t done more to stop the violence.

And recall that Trump, two years before he was president, bragged that he could “fix [Baltimore] fast,” while criticizing then-President Barack Obama for not having enough of a “positive impact” on the city.

But now that he’s the one in the White House, Trump has made demeaning Democrats and the cities they represent a key feature of his stump speeches. That shamelessness was on full display at another point when his speech was interrupted by protesters holding a banner that read, “immigrants built America,” right after Trump started to talk about how many people were murdered in Chicago last year.

While the protesters were being forced out of the arena, Trump could be heard on a hot mic asking people in the crowd if the mayor of Cincinnati is a Democrat. After they confirmed that he is, Trump said to his audience, “you must have a Democrat mayor!” — as though the disruption wouldn’t have happened if the city was governed by a Republican.

At another point, Trump attacked California for the number of homeless people who reside in the state, saying, “Nearly half of all the homeless people living in the streets in America happen to live in the state of California. What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country. It’s a shame. The world is looking at it. Look at Los Angeles with the tents and the horrible, horrible disgusting conditions. Look at San Francisco.”

The irony is that most of the states on the list of the 10 with the highest poverty rates are deep red ones, such as Mississippi (No. 1), Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee. (Cincinnati’s poverty rate of 28 percent is almost twice as high as California’s 16.4 percent poverty rate). But because those states support Trump, they’re exempt from his ridicule.

And as if gloating over violent crime in Baltimore wasn’t bad enough, Trump on Friday morning posted a tweet making light of the fact that someone attempted to burglarize congressman Cummings’s Baltimore home this week.

All of this provides a window into Trump’s ugly reelection strategy: using every tool at his disposal — including, on Thursday evening, race-baiting and far-fetched promises, such as curing cancer “very shortly” — to motivate his white base to get out and vote, while using the rest of the country as a foil for political attacks.

Instead of attempting to bring America together, Trump is explicitly trying to divide and conquer. And he’s dehumanizing people he’s supposed to be representing in the process.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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