It was a remarkable statement, both racist and classist, and based on stereotypes long promoted by the Republican Party to paint African Americans as somehow listless and lazy and over-reliant on public benefits. See Ronald Reagan’s trope of the “welfare queen” (still glad you voted for that dead president in 2020, Gov. Larry Hogan?)
What makes this condescension especially galling, of course, is that the Kushner Companies, where the 39-year-old served as CEO until he was brought to the White House, owns a slew of Baltimore-area rental properties known for their rodent and maggot infestations and other code violations. And what did the company do about it during Kushner’s tenure at the top? As The Baltimore Sun has detailed, it was quick to file civil charges against tenants, with 105 people arrested during the four-year period leading to 2017. That’s a number that leaves other Baltimore-area property managers in the dust (or mold as it were) when it comes to aggressive debt collection. So at least we know this lack of empathy isn’t a new thing, it’s a long-standing outlook and perhaps part of the Kushner business model.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany chided reporters and others for taking Kushner out of context, so let’s try another interpretation. Could it be he was really saying that he and his father-in-law believe racism doesn’t exist and Black people suffer no disadvantage from it? Problems people of color face are of their own making; that was more directly his point. Forget years of enslavement, segregation, Jim Crow laws and withheld opportunities; forget the psychological torture of being treated as lesser, of having your children looked down upon, bullied or even brutalized; forget having to work multiple jobs to pay the bills and take three buses to get to each. If Black people want success, they just have to bootstrap it, Kushner was saying — or so we think; it’s tough to hear with the silver spoon in his mouth.
Forbes has estimated Kushner’s family’s wealth at $1.8 billion, with much of it tied up in real estate. So one imagines there are few better experts on the life of, for example, a poor, Black single mother in Baltimore dealing with a lack of jobs, transportation, and affordable health care and child care, while navigating neighborhood dangers of crime and substance abuse than the fellow who was appointed senior adviser to the president based primarily, if not exclusively, on his marriage to the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. Who could possibly know better about the challenge of having to live in a housing complex with “rodent and vermin infestations, water leaks, and mold growth,” as Maryland’s attorney general described the region’s Kushner properties, than the man whose company generated $90 million in annual revenue from them?
To a person so fully removed from the daily challenges of life in Baltimore, perhaps it seems odd that so many African American voters aren’t supportive of Donald Trump, who so frequently brags about how last year he signed a bill mandating $255 million in funding for historically Black colleges and universities over 10 years. What ingrates. Or perhaps they just heard President Trump call Sen. Kamala Harris a monster, deliberately mispronounce her name and then suggest she’s disqualified not only because he believes her a socialist, but because she’s a woman. “We’re not going to have a socialist … especially a female socialist president,” he told supporters at a Florida rally last week.
What would, of course, really please the Trumps, father and son-in-law, would simply be for all those “unsuccessful” Black voters to stay home between now and Election Day. But we doubt that will be the case. Motivation is high to kick those particular public housing tenants, the Trump-Kushners, to the curb.
This editorial is the opinion of the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board.
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