I shall leave it to the theologians to decide whether it is providential or merely coincidental that it was this very week in 1729, on Tuesday in fact, that the city of Baltimore was founded. I think we can say that, for the genus rattus, the city has been providential, at least since 1967. That was the year Thomas D’Alesandro III—the brother of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (and son of Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., a former mayor of Baltimore)—began the city’s 50-plus years of uninterrupted Democratic Party rule. (If you except the younger Mr. D’Alesandro’s immediate predecessor, you can push the run of Democratic mayors of Baltimore all the way back to 1947.)

Things have been good for the rats in Baltimore. For homo sapiens sapiens? Not so good. Drugs. Violence. Poverty. Squalor. “The Wire” was more documentary than fiction.

But rats have, as the book of Genesis recommended, been fruitful. Also, they have multiplied. Quoth Catherine Pugh, mayor of Baltimore until just a couple of months ago, when she stepped down because of charges of corruption, rats were so plentiful in Baltimore that “you could smell them.”

But that was in September of last year, before Donald Trump turned his gimlet eye on Baltimore, a city that has suffered not only from more than half a century of local Democratic control but also from nearly 25 years of representation by Elijah Cummings, a race-hustling confidence man right out of central casting.

Over the weekend, the president opened up on “King Elijah” in a series of tweets. “Baltimore, under the leadership of Elijah Cummings,” he wrote in one, “has the worst Crime Statistics in the Nation. 25 years of all talk, no action! So tired of listening to the same old Bull . . . Next, Reverend Al will show up to complain & protest. Nothing will get done for the people in need. Sad.”

The president continued: “Baltimore’s numbers are the worst in the United States on Crime and the Economy. Billions of dollars have been pumped in over the years, but to no avail. The money was stolen or wasted. Ask Elijah Cummings where it went. He should investigate himself with his Oversight Committee!”

In short, Baltimore was “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

It was one thing when Christine Pugh dilated on the rodent theme in 2018.

It is quite another when Donald Trump does it in 2019.

The cries of “racism” came fast and furious against the president, from, among many others, the Rev. Al Sharpton. (I always love writing “the Rev. Al Sharpton”: the incongruity is positively giggle-making.)

That did not faze the president, who promptly repeated and broadened his attack. “There is nothing racist in stating plainly what most people already know,” he wrote, “that Elijah Cummings has done a terrible job for the people of his district, and of Baltimore itself. Dems always play the race card when they are unable to win with facts. Shame!” And then there was this on Sharpton: “I have known Al for 25 years. Went to fights with him & Don King, always got along well. He ‘loved Trump!’ He would ask me for favors often. Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score. Just doing his thing. Must have intimidated Comcast/NBC. Hates Whites & Cops!”

Politico, along with the rest of the virtue-signaling, chest-less media, sobbed in impotent disbelief. “President Donald Trump on Monday opened new fronts in the bitter tirade he launched over the weekend against Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore, lobbing insults at civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.”

You know that the president’s observation was impermissible because Politico called it “bitter,” which ever since Obama’s “bitter clingers” remark has been code for “right-wing redneck.” But the best thing about Politico’s little melodrama was its description of Sharpton as a “civil rights leader.”

What Al Sharpton really is, as the president noted, is a “con man,” a race-hustling mountebank. Thomas Sowell was less polite but more accurate when he said that Sharpton headed “a trail of slime going back more than a quarter of a century, during which he has whipped up mobs and fomented race hatred from the days of the Tawana Brawley ‘rape’ hoax of 1987 to the Duke ‘rape’ hoax of 2006 and the Ferguson riots of 2014.”

Exactly so.

I suspect that those who see an element of calculation in the president’s tweets about Baltimore, Cummings, and Sharpton are correct. As Monica Showalter noted at The American Thinker, the president has just dramatized a real problem and made the Democrats, and their enablers in the media, defend the indefensible, just as he did with his comments a couple of weeks ago about the racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American tetrarchy of “the squad.” President Trump, Showalter noted, is “now forcing Democrats to own the urban shambles and filth that characterize one-party blue-city rule, putting all Democrats on their backfoot. That’s what’s behind his surprise Twitter assault that began with Rep. Elijah Cummings and his rat-infested Baltimore district, which pretty much came out of the blue.”

I think that’s probably correct. But there are a few larger issues at play in this episode.

One was articulated several decades ago by the philosopher Sidney Hook, who, writing about the danger of spurious charges of “racism” and kindred epithets, noted

as morally offensive as is the expression of racism wherever it is found, a false charge of racism is equally offensive, perhaps even more so, because the consequences of a false charge of racism enable an authentic racist to conceal his racism by exploiting the loose way the term is used to cover up his actions. The same is true of a false charge of sexism or anti-Semitism. This is the lesson we should all have learned from the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Because of his false and irresponsible charges of communism against liberals, socialists, and others among his critics, many communists and agents of communist influence sought to pass themselves off as Jeffersonian democrats or merely idealistic reformers. They would all complain they were victims of red-baiting to prevent criticism and exposure. [Highlighting added.]

You see the dynamic Hook outlined at work everywhere today, not least in the ridiculous charges that Donald Trump is racist because he attacks people who do bad things who also happen to be black.

Their color has nothing to do with his criticisms. Trump attacks “the squad” not because they are female or “people of color,” but because the are anti-American fanatics. He attacks Elijah Cummings not because he is black but because he is a corrupt pol who has done ill by his district. He attacks Sharpton not because he is black but because he is a race-baiting con-man.

Donald Trump is an equal opportunity scourge. He doesn’t care if you are black or white, male or female, if you behave badly and violate the public trust, he will call you out, baldly. And note this above all: If you attack him, he will attack you back. As Brit Hume pointed out recently, “People discerning a racist motive for Trump’s attack on Elijah Cummings are missing a key point: Trump attacks those who criticize him and his administration, black or white.” Hume follows up with an amusing and color-coordinated list of people Trump has put in their place (Bernie Sanders: crazy, Elizabeth Warren: total fraud, Justin Amash: loser, Joe Biden: low IQ, Harry Reid: insane, etc., etc.).

Beyond the elements of political calculation and polemical style, however, Donald Trump’s recent tweet fests suggest that he may be on the threshold of shifting the Overton Window on race.

Named for the policy analyst Joseph Overton, the famous fenestration describes the range of ideas and rhetoric that are acceptable in public discourse, from the unthinkable and radical at one end to popular ideas and settled policy at the other.

Public discourse in America has long been held hostage to a species of racist moral blackmail that has made it almost impossible to tell the truth about many central social realities. Trump opened the window on that paralyzing darkness when he dared to violate the taboo against criticizing failure when it happened to be presided over by blacks. But to do so is not racist. In fact, it is anti-racist, because it dares to hold everyone, blacks as well as whites, to the same standard.

The ethic of one-sided discriminatory intimidation has been the Democrats’ meal ticket from Jim Crow through the comically misnamed “Great Society” right down to our current crop of race hustlers like Elijah Cummings, Al Sharpton, Maxine Waters, not to mention the hundreds of academics who have based their entire careers on race, not scholarship.

Trump was elected partly because he was “politically incorrect”: he dared to bring the engine of common sense to bear against the malodorous carapace of left-wing ideology.

The president has a long way to go. But he has been the first chief executive in a very long time to have the rough courage to challenge the entrenched, sclerotic establishment that promulgates an agenda of dependency in order to protect its power and perquisites, surrounding the whole with the sleepless sentinels of politically correct interdiction.

It is a rotten, and a deeply un-American, spirit that has risen up among us. Donald Trump will not vanquish it single-handedly. But simply by tearing the scab off this festering infection, revealing it to all in its hideous profusion, he has earned the gratitude of everyone who values liberty and the boundless opportunities of what we used to be able to call, without embarrassment, the American way.

Donald Trump at the Overton Window
by Roger Kimball