After Donald Trump addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a very kosher speech Monday night, he sat down with the Washington Post’s editorial board and let staffers pick his brain for a little more than an hour on everything from foreign policy (“We are not in the position we used to be”) to whether or not he condones violence at his rallies (“No, I don’t think so”) to the size of his hands (“They’re fine. My hands are normal hands”). But when staffers asked him four separate times about racial disparities in law enforcement, he didn’t give them much of an answer.
Trump brought the topic around to the “horrible mess” of American inner cities, and went on to elaborate his plans to create economic zones and incentives for companies to move into places like Baltimore and Detroit. “Unemployment for African Americans is very high,” he explained. “And I would create in the inner cities, which is what I really do best.”
Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, then asked Trump if he thought racial disparity had anything to do with the problems he’d identified: “The root of many people’s unhappiness in Baltimore was the perception that blacks are treated differently by law enforcement. Do you think it’s a problem that the percentage of blacks in prison is higher than whites, and what do you think is the root of that situation?”
Trump replied, “I feel very strongly about law enforcement.” Hiatt asked him again whether he believes there are “disparities in law enforcement.” Trump responded by blaming racism on China:
I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that. Because frankly, what I’m saying is, you know, we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work. And, you know, we have lost millions and millions of jobs to China and other countries.
Then Ruth Marcus, a Post columnist who Trump later says “kills him,” doubled down on Hiatt’s question. “It is pretty undeniable that there is disproportionate incarceration of African Americans vs. whites,” she said. “Is that something that concerns you?” Trump says it would concern him — that is, if he weren’t poised to become the greatest jobs-president God ever created. “If we can create jobs,” he assured her, “it will solve so many problems.”
But as Charles Lane, a columnist, pointed out, things like economic zones and business incentives have been proposed before, and Baltimore has received “a lot of federal aid over the years.” How would Trump’s plan be different?
The answer, Trump said, is “spirit.” “I actually think I’d be a great cheerleader for the country,” he said. “Because a lot of people feel it’s a hopeless situation. A lot of people in the inner cities, they feel that way. And you have to start by giving them hope and giving them spirit.” In other words, one more time, with feeling — but better.