Trump Has Slurred Black-Led Cities Before. In Milwaukee, He’s Paying For It

If Donald Trump’s attacks on Milwaukee as a “horrible city” sounded familiar to you, that’s because they’re almost routine. Trump uses majority-Black cities as synecdoches for urban doom, Black political corruption and American decline. This time, he might pay for it.

I’m often a critic of how Democrats fail to capitalize on political opportunities their opponents hand them. So I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the way the Democratic National Committee, among others, jumped on the Milwaukee slur. The DNC is placing 10 billboards around the lakefront city where the GOP will hold its presidential nominating convention next month. Now the committee has compiled a list of other times he’s slurred Milwaukee, and other Black cities, and provided it to The Nation.

As he pretends to make a play for Black votes – filling a Black Detroit church with white people – it’s fun to remember what he said about Detroit, as well as Baltimore, Oakland and Chicago: “It’s like living in hell,” he told Fox’s Sean Hannity in June, 2020.

“Everyone gets upset when I say it, they say, ‘Oh is that a racist statement?’ No, it’s not racist. Frankly, Black people come up to me and say ‘thank you, thank you sir for saying it.’ They want help,” he added.

I guess that’s why he needed white people to fill that Black Detroit church.

After Trump lost in 2020, he repeatedly blamed cities with large Black populations and leadership for various imagined kinds of voter fraud and wrongdoing. He tweeted: “Biden did poorly in big cities except those of Detroit (more votes than people!), Philadelphia, Atlanta and Milwaukee. Not surprisingly, they are all located in the most important swing states, and are long known for being politically corrupt!” In remarks just after the election, he claimed “Detroit and Philadelphia—known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country, easily—cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a Presidential race.”

He tried, and failed, to invalidate 200,000 votes in Milwaukee and Madison (the state capital has Wisconsin’s second largest Black population). 

Of course, Trump was slurring Black cities and Black leadership before he lost the election. After the late Rep. Elijah Cummings criticized his border policies, he tweeted: “Cumming (sic) District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”

Likewise, when the late civil rights hero, Rep. John Lewis, announced he wouldn’t attend Trump’s inauguration, Trump claimed his home district of Atlanta was “falling apart” and “crime-infested.”

And during the 2016 race, he falsely said “half of all Detroit residents do not work, and cannot work, and can’t get a job,” and blamed “crooked Hillary Clinton.” At his September debate with Clinton, he went on: “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.”  

Unfortunately, Trump went on to win the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia in 2016, largely because of depressed Black turnout in Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta. (My colleague John Nichols breaks down the Milwaukee numbers here.)

This year, Democrats are fighting back, as polls purport to show Trump’s Black support climbing. “Donald Trump’s vicious attacks against cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore are emblematic of his disastrous attempts to court Black voters,” DNC senior spokesperson Marcus W. Robinson said in a statement. “Under his presidency, the Black uninsured rate spiked, as did the Black unemployment rate. Black voters aren’t going to forget how disastrous Trump’s term was, and that is why they will once again power Joe Biden back to the White House this November.” 

When I asked DNC deputy communications director Abhi Rahman whether we might see billboards in other swing state cities Trump has slurred, he told me “More to come on that!” Let’s hope so. Oh, and in case you missed it, it’s not just Trump: The RNC has so much respect for its convention host it depicted it as Ho Chi Minh City until corrected.