The problem with Trump's proof that he's helped 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 we won't know the difference.
Image:
One World Trade Center towers above the lower Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River in New York.Mark Lennihan / AP file
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By Steve Benen

On Twitter yesterday, Donald Trump insisted, in all seriousness, that his administration has "done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln." The missive, which he pinned to the top of his Twitter timeline, suggested the president genuinely believes he can win over African-American voters, who polls show hold Trump in very low regard.

Yesterday's tweet, however, actually added some specific elements to back up the claim. The president boasted, for example, that he "Passed Opportunity Zones" with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Congress' only African-American Republican. The tweet came just two weeks after Trump and Scott hosted a White House event on Opportunity Zones as proof of his administration's interest in economic development in inner cities.

Apparently, Americans are supposed to believe Trump's policy on Opportunity Zones has been a great success. It has not. 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.