One of the glaring flaws in Trump's weak pitch to Black voters

Trump keeps insisting that Opportunity Zones prove he isn't racist. Does he not realize the policy has largely been exposed as a sham?
Image: Lower Manhattan in New York on Dec. 3, 2013.
Lower Manhattan in New York on Dec. 3, 2013.Ron Antonelli / Bloomberg via Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

After Joe Biden denounced Donald Trump as a racist this week, a reporter asked the incumbent president for his response. The Republican didn't reflect on his respect for minority communities, but he did claim, "I’ve done more for Black Americans than anybody, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. Nobody has even been close."

Trump added, "I say it openly, and not a lot of people dispute it." He did not appear to be kidding.

Of particular interest, though was the president's willingness to point to some specific examples to bolster his case, including this one:

"We did opportunity cities. We did the greatest -- if you look at what we’ve done with Opportunity Zones, nobody has ever even thought of a plan like that.... [L]ook at Opportunity Zones."

Right off the bat, it's important to emphasize that doing things that may benefit a minority community is not, in and of itself, evidence against racism. What's more, meaningful scrutiny of Trump's record on policies affecting the African-American community exposes his boasts as largely hollow.

But of particular interest is the president's ongoing belief that Opportunity Zones don't just represent proof that he's not a racist; they also stand as a success story worth bragging about.

As regular readers know, that's a tough position to defend on the merits. The New York Times reported last summer that the policy, touted as a way to help poor communities, has become "a windfall for the rich."

President Trump has portrayed America's cities as wastelands, ravaged by crime and homelessness, infested by rats. But the Trump administration's signature plan to lift them -- a multibillion-dollar tax break that is supposed to help low-income areas -- has fueled a wave of developments financed by and built for the wealthiest Americans.

New York's Jon Chait added in March that Opportunity Zones are "a corrupt scam to enrich Trump's cronies," and the whole initiative "is, or should be, a massive scandal."

The provision, added to his 2018 tax cut, sounds appealing on the surface. It gives a capital gains tax cut to developers who build new projects in poor urban areas. The problem is that, even conceptually, the incentive is not going to drive investment in the poorest areas. Developers will look for the least-poor blocks that qualify for the tax cut and build there. In practice, the designation of which areas get the tax credit has been hopelessly (and predictably) abused, so that well-connected builders can go into already-gentrifying neighborhoods and get lucrative tax breaks for projects they wanted to build anyway, including Jaguar dealerships, pet spas, and other luxury playgrounds for the rich.

Remember, according to the president, this is proof of the great things he's done "for the Black Community."

Maybe Trump doesn't realize that his Opportunity Zones policy has been exposed as a sham. Maybe he does realize it and hopes the public won't know the difference.

Either way, he appears to be proving the opposite of his intended point.