There are people, apparently quite a few people, who actually like Donald Trump. In fact, they love him … just ask him! They do not, apparently, live in Flint, Michigan, however. Mr. Trump visited Flint on Wednesday and his reception was … well, let’s say it was just below lukewarm. Now why, you may ask, did Trump decide to go to Flint after declining to even talk about Flint earlier this year? I will answer your question with a question: why does Trump do anything?
To refresh your memory before I proceed, a few facts about Flint, Michigan:
- Flint was once home to the nation’s largest General Motors plant
- 41.6% of Flint residents live below the poverty line 1
- The current population of Flint is 102,434.
- 56.6% of the Flint population are African-American
Bare-bones facts about Flint’s current water crisis:
- In 2011, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances
- In 2014, the city switched water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River in a cost-cutting move
- The Flint River was known to contain “fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances.”
- Lead from aging service lines to homes began leaching into the Flint water supply
- Serious contamination is found, treated with chlorine, more contamination, more chlorine …
- Flint refuses to re-connect with Lake Huron, citing cost
- Residents find that they are drinking water with lead levels more than 26 times the EPA limit
This is, as I said, a bare-bones summary, just a memory refresher, as I wrote about this at some length in a January post. For a full timeline of events on the Flint Water crisis, take a look at CNN’s analysis.
So, back to Mr. Trump and his visit to Flint this week. Remember that Trump is currently trying to step back from his previous criticisms of African-Americans and lure them to vote for him in just under two months. Thus far, he has been fairly unsuccessful in his efforts, first because we humans have memories and do not easily forget when someone refer to us as “lazy” and “stupid”. Second, because his efforts have been bumbling and ineffectual, to say the least. He speaks to primarily white audiences when he needs to be speaking directly to those whose votes he seeks. He talks down to them, as if perhaps they do not understand his message. He tells them how sad their lives are and then asks them “what the hell do you have to lose?” And he invites them to Trump towers rather than visiting them in their own neighborhoods.
His decision this week to visit Flint was, no doubt, predicated by his handlers telling him that he needs to get out into the African-American community and rustle up some votes. What better place to start than Flint, economically depressed, predominantly African-American, and as an added bonus, an ongoing crisis of substantial and life-threatening proportions?
What Trump failed to take into consideration is that the residents of Flint are tired of politics and tired of those who come into their city, pay lip service to their problems, then leave and never look back. They have had a lifetime of that … they want real people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and actually help them. Ever seen Trump with rolled-up sleeves? No, me either.
Flint mayor, Karen Weaver, raised objections to Trump’s visit even before his arrival. She issued a statement on her Facebook page saying that neither Trump nor his staff have reached out since the crisis was declared an emergency. She said Trump did not let her know of his plans to visit this week. “Flint is focused on fixing the problems caused by lead contamination of our drinking water, not photo ops,” said Weaver. You may remember that a similar thing happened when Trump decided to tour Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of floods last month, without first notifying Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
Next on Trump’s agenda was Bethel United Methodist Church, where opponents booed loudly as his motorcade arrived and left. About 70 Flint residents had come to the church to hear what Trump had to say, but if they were hoping to hear him expound on how he would work to fix the water problems in Flint, to make drinking water safe again, or to avoid future problems in Flint and other communities, they were quickly disappointed. For Trump had come to blow da trumpet, to toot his own horn. He came to campaign … and in the middle of his speech, people who wanted answers, people who wanted some cold, hard facts, interrupted with questions about housing discrimination and other issues relevant to them.
Then, as Trump is wont to do, he began ragging on Hillary Clinton for supporting trade deals like NAFTA that he called one of the worst trade deals in the history of America, “probably in the history of the world,” and that he said have contributed to the economic downfall of cities like Flint. He just couldn’t resist. At that point, the pastor of the church, Rev. Faith Green Timmons, interrupted him. She said, “Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we’ve done in Flint. Not to give a political speech.” Timmons later explained “I thought he wanted to see that we gave out food and water, and when his statement went beyond what he originally said, I asked him to stick to what he was originally going to say. He’s welcome to come and see what we’re doing in Flint. We’re doing well. We’re helping those in need. And I wanted him to see the best of Flint. And some of the statements I’ve heard him say about African-Americans and Hispanics have been degrading,” Timmons commented. Sorry, Rev. Timmons, but Trump cares not what you or anybody else is doing for humanity, for the community … Trump only cares about that which benefits Trump. One citizen who was in the church commented, “What he was trying to do was use us as a backdrop. The people of Flint are real, they’re not a backdrop.”
As Trump left the church a short while later, an African American man shouted at the candidate, “Are you sorry that you did not rent to black and Latino tenants?” This, in reference to Trump property’s practice of turning away potential black tenants some four decades ago.
So yes, Donald Trump visited Flint, Michigan. Donald Trump was not much wanted in Flint. How does he respond? He slams the pastor who asked him to address the issues of Flint rather than to use his visit there as a political opportunity to bash his opponent. And there is little doubt but that in the coming days Trump will decry that he received unfair treatment in Flint, that he went there with the purest of motives and was treated unfairly, but yet that everybody in Flint loved him. Hey, can I write a script or what?
The Flint water crisis is ongoing and the ultimate toll in human life and health will not be fully known for years. It is, however, a serious issue, an issue that real people deal with every day. There are many such issues around the nation that are important to each of us on a daily basis. For Donald Trump to come into our communities expecting to be welcomed with open arms, to use us as foils for his political manipulations and game-playing, is unconscionable and deplorable.