Trump’s faux concern about homelessness

Trump’s policies don’t reflect his recent concern for the homeless


Collegian File Photo

By Sarah Almstrom, Collegian Columnist

Donald  Trump’s presidency, until now, has fixated almost entirely on a platform of trade, border control and shaking up the system. Rarely has he indicated a deep concern for environmental protectionism.

So, you might be forgiven for wondering if his administration’s sudden interest in the Clean Air and Water Act is genuine, especially when this concern is directed exclusively at California, the state he lost two-to-one in the 2016 election and that has recently been receiving the brunt of his Twitter criticism.

How did we get here? Less than a few weeks ago, Trump was attempting to kill clean car standards in California. Now, he seems intent on enforcing environmental regulations to the letter.

The answer lies in the larger context of Trump’s strategy of criticizing large cities and the Democrats who run them. This past month, he called Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” conditions he blamed on Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who he was, at the time, attacking on Twitter. Now, as Nancy Pelosi announces the beginning of an impeachment inquiry, Trump has set his sights on her home state of California. His new angle of attack: the homelessness crisis.

In a letter the EPA sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the department blamed alleged problems on their homeless population, an expansion of the president’s claims that San Francisco has “tremendous pollution,” and that used needles are cluttering the Pacific Ocean.

The political motivations here are not difficult to connect. Earlier this summer, Trump tweeted, “Speaking of failing badly, has anyone seen what is happening to Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco…The Dems should stop wasting time on the Witch Hunt Hoax and start focusing on our Country!”

Of course, this isn’t to say that homelessness in America does not constitute a crisis. On a surveyed night in 2018, it affected more than 552,830 people across the country, a figure which has only increased this year. And in California, the nation’s most populous state, more than 70 percent of homeless people are unsheltered.

The fact remains, however, that if Trump or his administration actually cared about homelessness — or its “impact” on the environment — their policies would look very different. Perhaps if it weren’t simply another “failed liberal governance” talking point, his proposed 2020 budget would not have suggested slashing funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 18 percent. Or, if Trump wasn’t just attempting to embarrass his political opponents, HUD wouldn’t be creating new regulations to evict citizens from public housing – including over 55,000 children.

The administration’s proposed solutions aren’t much better. The Council of Economic Advisers’ 2019 “State of Homelessness” report recommends increased policing to reverse the government’s “tolerability” of those sleeping on the streets, claiming decriminalization has “enlarged the turf homeless persons can claim,” and that “aggressive referral … has a record of reducing street homelessness and the attendant costs it imposes on other people.”

Unfortunately, this humanitarian crisis is being discussed only in the context of the “burden” it poses on the comfort of others. The issue of visibility is Trump’s real complaint; not the extreme hardship of over half a million people, but rather the rest of the country having to deal with it. In an interview on Fox News, the president lamented the fact that visiting world leaders see homeless people. “They’re riding down a highway, they can’t be looking at that,” he said. “I really believe that it hurts our country.” This proceeded his more recent complaints about “people living in our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings.”

Clearly, Trump’s new “policy” has no basis in authentic moral concern, serving more as future campaign rhetoric than as a real legislative agenda. Further attempts to frame it as an environmental or health issue scapegoats vulnerable individuals, using them for political gain rather than offering assistance. His administration, for their part, makes no attempt to hide these partisan motivations.

“The president has taken notice of the homelessness crisis,” said a White House spokesman, “particularly in cities and states where the liberal policies are combining to dramatically increase poverty and public health risks.”

The “particularly” really says it all.

Sarah Almstrom is a Collegian columnist and can be found at [email protected]