Donald Trump says he wants to fix cities. Ben Carson will make them worse.

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tags: election 2016, Trump, Ben Carson, HUD



Thomas J. Sugrue is a professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University. He is author of “Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North.” Follow @TomSugrue

Donald Trump talked more about cities than any major-party candidate for president in decades. The picture he painted was bleak. He described “inner cities” as hellholes and depicted urban blacks as the tragic victims of generations of neglect. He visited Detroit, blaming ostensibly liberal public policies for its long depopulation and decline, conveniently overlooking decades of cuts in urban funding and a bipartisan neglect of cities that dates back to the early 1970s. He falsely claimed that urban crime is skyrocketing (it has declined steadily since the early 1990s, falling to a near 50-year low). And he pledged to fix it.

Trump’s fixer is now in line. On Monday, the president-elect officially named former neurosurgeon and onetime GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson as his nominee for secretary of housing and urban development. Carson grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Detroit, the son of a housecleaner, but there’s certainly nothing in his medical career that indicates he’s the best pick for the job: While Carson was on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University medical school, located in one of the nation’s poorest and most troubled big cities, he took little interest in urban issues. In his ill-fated primary campaign, he railed against “social engineering,” a swipe at efforts to open housing in mostly well-to-do, overwhelmingly white communities to minority home buyers and renters.

Trump’s selection of Carson echoes Ronald Reagan’s choice of Samuel Pierce as his HUD secretary. Like Trump, Reagan had lashed out against inner cities and pledged to slash social spending. Like Trump’s supporters, the majority of Reagan’s voters did not live in cities. And like Trump, he had little support among African Americans. But like Trump, Reagan wanted a black face in a high place for a little legitimacy in a post-civil-rights-movement White House. And, like Trump, Reagan had pledged to loosen housing and financial regulations.

HUD was an easy target for Reagan, as it is for Trump. It had been created by Lyndon B. Johnson at the peak of his Great Society to meet the huge demand for affordable housing in American cities and to grapple with the ravages of mass suburbanization, nearly complete racial segregation and capital flight from cities, all of which had been heavily bankrolled by the federal government. In 1968, HUD took on the additional responsibility of “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” the gargantuan task of undoing decades of discriminatory real estate and home-lending practices.

None of these missions was popular: Republicans criticized HUD as a meddling “big government” agency. Southern Democrats railed against its civil rights goals. And suburban whites fiercely resisted even modest efforts to open the housing market to racial minorities. Attacked from all sides, HUD struggled for adequate funding from the outset. ...




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