What We Aren't Hearing About West Baltimore

I have concluded this presidential campaign is going to be a danger to my dental health. Not mental — that bus left the station — but dental. Watching people react to Trump's tweets is causing me to grind my teeth.

One tweet that damaged my dentine, of course, is that tweet about Elijah Cummings' district in Maryland. Since the actual story has long since been forgotten, let's just go back over it.

In the first inning, Kim Klacik — a black woman who is a Republican local official as well as a contributor for the local Fox channel — made a video report on the conditions in West Baltimore.

Now, the report was not actually all that controversial: she showed that conditions in some of the poor neighborhoods were really bad, infested with rats and heavily littered with uncollected garbage. She called out representative Elijah Cummings for paying more attention to things that got on television than his own district.

None of those conditions were really news: they'd been reported by PBS; the Baltimore paper quoted the mayor that "you could smell the rats"; it had been the subject of a documentary; they'd even been called out by Cummings, who called those neighborhoods "drug-infested" years ago.

Klacik's story was then picked up and shown on Fox and Friends, and following that, the story was retweeted by Trump.

That, to quote Roger Zelazny, was when the fit hit the Shan. Trump was immediately denounced for his "racist" tweets. That the tweets were racist quickly went from being some people's opinion to being reported as truth on most television networks and nationwide newspapers.

It wasn't long before Cummings was being feted as a Democrat leader and paragon of morality comparable to Senator Ted Kennedy.

Like, people were saying this seriously, not as the height of irony.

We were told that mentioning the rats infesting those poor neighborhoods — hell, that using the word infesting — was inherently racist. We were told that the average income in Cummings' district was higher than in some of the rural districts represented by Republican representatives.

The average income point is, of course, a demonstration of how you can lie with statistics as long as your audience is innumerate, unsophisticated, ignorant, or just stupid.

You see, if you examine Cummings' thoroughly gerrymandered district, you discover that it includes two populations in a sort of Pac-Man shape devouring the coastal parts of Baltimore. One of those populations is the very poor and dominantly African American section that Klacik was documenting. The others are thoroughly upper-class, thoroughly liberal Democrat, largely white neighborhoods.

Of course, when you take the average of a bunch of really poor people and a bunch of pretty wealthy people, the average is going to be higher than the average for the poor people.

Long ago, when I was an undergrad philosophy major, we learned that to logically evaluate a bit of rhetoric it was useful to see if substituting some of the specifics yields a sentence that still makes sense.

Let's assume — hypothetically, and yes I realize this requires a suspension of disbelief — a city with a Republican mayor who was the most recent of a series of corrupt mayors, a large area with a long-term problem of dumped garbage and rat infestation that had been the subject of many documentaries and a number of previous news reports, and that after another news story, President Barack Obama called out the Republican congressional representative. Would that be obviously racist?

Since I'm not paid by the word I won't belabor the point, but I think pretty obviously not — and if you think it would be, I have some spectacular real estate deals for you in southern Florida as well as a marvelous bridge in New York City.

Since then, it's turned out that a few days before Trump's tweet, the residence that Cummings keeps in his district had been burglarized. That led to people questioning whether Cummings actually resides in that residence (pro tip: don't bet money on it) followed by a few scattered stories on questions about Cummings' wife's self-dealing on money that goes into her nonprofit, and the IRS complaint that went with that.

Oh, and hints that Trump had been responsible for the burglary, which took place days before his tweet.

I think the time-traveling powers of Republican presidents are really not being used very effectively.

So what actually comes of this? We got the usual miniature moral panic, with lots of virtue preening. CNN is now searching for dirt on Kimberly Klacik, the woman whose report started this kerfuffle. A whole bunch of people are demanding that Trump do something — while insisting that the local member of Congress isn't responsible. This cost me a couple of bits of a back molar in itself.

The only thing that seems to have been forgotten in the rush to claim that Trump is lying, that Baltimore is wonderful, and conditions in neighborhoods of one city are the personal responsibility not of the local government but of the president, is that there are a lot of poor people who are still living in garbage-filled, rat-infested, crime-ridden neighborhoods where the problems have been well known for years.

What really makes me grind my teeth is how the virtue preeners have made clear that they honestly don't give a good godd*mn about those people; they just want to score on Trump.