If there was one clear theme to emerge from the Republican National Convention, it was President Donald Trump's firmly held belief that whatever ails American cities is the fault of Democratic control. In some ways, his attack last year on Baltimore as "disgusting, rat and rodent infested" were just a warmup. Now, he's calling himself the "law and order" candidate and in his acceptance speech vowed to crack down on "rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities."
In other words, he is pursuing just another variation on his long-running, pre-COVID-19 narrative that none of the problems facing cities stems from systemic racism or police misconduct or concentrated poverty or the war on drugs or the neglect of cities by the federal government, it's all because the various mayors and council members have a "D" after their names. To put it even more simply, one-party rule is the cause of bad outcomes, not extenuating circumstances or even gun-toting counterprotesting teens itching for a fight.
That's a convenient point of view for a Republican president seeking re-election at a time of national calamity and personal failure. If President Trump has a skill, it's distracting his followers and shifting blame away from himself. The convenience of this viewpoint is clear: It allows him not to talk against racism but to spout it and even encourages his core supporters, the white working class, to see themselves as victims. But there's also one serious flaw in his strategy. Somebody is bound to notice at some point that if party affiliation is the sole or even primary cause of bad outcomes, the Grand Old Party has some serious explaining to do of its own.
What states have produced the least educated populace? That would be Mississippi and West Virginia. They are governed by Republicans. Which has the greatest percentage of people living below the poverty line? There is Mississippi again. Mississippi hasn't had a Democratic governor in two decades. Alabama, Arkansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, that's not just a list of states where the GOP has a lock on statewide elected office, it also happens to be a partial list of states with the highest infant mortality rates. You name the measure of prosperity, education, health and well-being and chances are a state with a Republican governor and usually a Republican-controlled legislature have the worst outcomes.
And here's what really ought to get those conservative wags fuming. It's not just that these "red" states are failing, it's that they are taking in federal tax dollars much faster than their "blue" counterparts. Earlier this summer, the website WalletHub did a study of states based on how much they collectively pay in federal taxes vs. how much they receive in return in the form of federal aid.
What states are running the biggest deficits (getting far more out of Uncle Sam then they give)? The top 10 include Mississippi (of course), West Virginia, Alaska, South Carolina, Indiana, Arizona and Wyoming. All have Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures. Just three on that list, New Mexico, Montana and Kentucky, have a Democratic governor (with Montana and Kentucky having GOP-controlled legislative branches).
Democrats ought to be outraged about this, at least if they thought primarily in terms of political party and not, you know, in terms of the well-being of their fellow Americans. How do states like Mississippi and West Virginia get all that aid? Well, some of it is borrowed (a product of these deficit-expanding times), but the rest comes from states where Democrats hold sway. The list of least federally dependent states include New Jersey, Delaware, California, Minnesota and Washington. A few red states like Kansas make the list, too, But then Kansas has a Democratic governor.
We suspect Joe Biden won't talk much about this during the campaign. He doesn't appear to be interested in fomenting insurrection, in ridiculing these low-performing states as "Donald Trump's America," although they are to their core. Still, the question is valid: If Democratic-control of cities is the sole or even primary reason for the difficulties they face, then why isn't Republican control of states perceived similarly? Apparently, Biden has the odd notion that governance is about finding common ground and uniting the nation to create opportunities for all. What an old-fashioned value, what a TV ratings loser, what a way not to tap hate and resentment to get yourself more votes.