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The Manhattan skyline is visible in the distance as a man visits Governors Island on July 15, 2020 in New York.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images file

Trump promotes message on US cities: 'Let them rot'

A sitting president endorsing a message in which he encourages people to abandon cities in his own country? "Let them rot"? Welcome to Trump's 2020 message


At a recent briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters, in all seriousness that Donald Trump "has done a lot to bring this country together."

Yeah, sure he has.

Even on Saturday shortly before midnight, Mr. Trump took no rest from stirring the pot. At 11:09 p.m., just 15 minutes after posting on Twitter a statement mourning the death of his younger brother, he retweeted a message urging the abandonment of cities that he, as president, represents. "Leave Democrat cities," the message read. "Let them rot."

The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty, noting the message the president promoted to the world, asked a reasonable question: "Have we lost our capacity to be shocked?"

The answer, of course, is "probably."

At face value, there's simply nothing to compare this to in the American tradition. A sitting president endorsing a message in which he encourages people to abandon cities in his own country? There may have been previous leaders who've harbored ill will toward certain parts of the country for one reason or another, but for a president to publicly express contempt for urban areas -- ahead of an election, no less -- is extraordinary.

That said, the reaction was probably muted in large part because of the broader pattern. As we recently discussed, Trump, throughout his time in office, has left little doubt that he sees himself, not as a leader of a nation, but as the principal organizer for his like-minded followers.

In early June, for example, after weeks of national protests in support of racial justice, Trump ignored aides who urged the president to at least try to calm a nation in the grips of unrest. NBC News reported at the time that the Republican used a simple four-word phrase to dismiss protestors and their cause: "These aren't my voters."

A month later, the Washington Post reported that the president was "unreceptive" to advisers who tried to convince him to "grapple with the reality" of the coronavirus pandemic. Only one thing struck a chord: "[S]enior advisers began presenting Trump with maps and data showing spikes in coronavirus cases among 'our people' in Republican states, a senior administration official said."

This approach, the Post report added, "seemed to resonate."

In theory, Trump should look at the polls and the popular vote, recognize the limit of his base, and take steps to win over skeptics. But in practice, he doesn't care: the president prefers to disregard the citizens of his own country who stubbornly refuse to appreciate his perceived genius.

There is no defense for such a posture. American presidents have a responsibility to care about all of their constituents, not just those they see as political allies.

But Trump is a different kind of leader: one who might as well change his title to the President of the Red States of America.