Sunday night at the presidential debate, Donald Trump couldn’t stop talking about fixing “inner cities.” The candidate brought up the topic early on, calling them “a disaster education-wise, job-wise, safety-wise” and saying that he was “going to help the African-Americans.” In doing so, he demonstrated his ignorance of several decades of urban history. The development wasn’t totally surprising, but it was rather startling given that the man was a developer for almost half a century before he started courting “the Blacks.”
Trump has used the term “inner city” during this election enough times that it’s clear he conflates that concept with the reality of modern, urban African-American communities. “I would be a president for all of the people,” he said during the Town Hall. “African-Americans. The inner cities.” The statement wasn’t just grammatically disorienting, it was temporally baffling in post-gentrification America.
Here’s the truth: Inner cities aren’t all that black anymore. “White flight,” the migration of middle-class Caucasians to placid suburbs during period of urban social and demographic upheaval, was a mid-20th century phenomenon. In the 21st century, research indicates that city centers aren’t necessarily where the bulk of black populations live. For example, 2010 Census data showed that most black people in Cleveland now live on the east side of the city. And in San Francisco and New York City, the “inner city” is fantastically wealthy. If it was also black, African-Americans would have a lot to be pleased about it. (It isn’t.)
If anything, white people returning to these inner city regions is what’s causing current problems. Quartz points out that gentrification makes rent unaffordable for people who have already lived in these areas for years. This forces out communities of color who have to move elsewhere to find housing elsewhere. In portraying these communities as hellish ghettoes, Trump is telling a story that seems to appeal to his largely white base. The problem with that story — the racist takeaways aside — is that it’s pure fiction.
And this isn’t the first time that Trump has been wrong about inner cities. Earlier this year in August, he tweeted that crime in these areas is reaching record levels.
The website Politifact took data collected by the FBI and disproved Trump’s statement. Violent crime has been in steady decline. There has been a slight uptick in certain cities, but that might actually Trump’s fault to a degree — though its easy to go to far with that logic.
Every time Trump touts his plans to make life better in “Inner Cities,” he’s drawing attention to what might be his biggest flaw as a candidate: his complete misunderstanding of the American cultural landscape.