Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he "saved" historically black colleges, whose funding has decreased sharply on his watch.

While Trump's defense lawyers made heroic efforts in the Senate to protect him from having to submit evidence or allow witnesses in his impeachment trial, Trump himself was in Switzerland. 

His speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos was packed with self-congratulation—most of it either factually inaccurate or misleading. Trump seemed to have difficulty reading the script, and while he occasionally engaged in some of his usual ad-libbing, it looked as though he were just marking time until he found his place in his prepared remarks again.

One of the most bizarre moments came when Trump was discussing areas with high poverty, and then immediately pivoted to the subject of historically black colleges and universities. (The segue probably made sense to Trump: many times during his presidency, he has said things that make clear he's assuming that all black people live in poverty and all poor neighborhoods are black.) Then, he said he'd "saved" HBCUs:

We created nearly 9,000 Opportunity Zones in distressed communities where capital gains on long-term investments are now taxed at zero, and tremendous wealth is pouring into areas that for a hundred years saw nothing. The 35 million Americans who live in these areas have already seen their home values rise by more than $22 billion.  My administration has also made historic investments in historically black colleges and universities.  I saved HCBUs [sic].  We saved them.  They were going out, and we saved them.

The only real clue as to what this might have meant comes from a speech he gave at an HBCU conference last September, where he made some vague claims about having been "bigger and better and stronger" than previous administrations on the subject. In reality, though, Trump hasn't really done much beyond preside over a huge decrease in federal science funding for HBCUs, and taking credit for administering loans that they would have been legally entitled to anyway. As one of the many organizations doing fact-checks of the Davos speech put it:

Trump signed a law in December restoring money that lapsed for several months when Congress failed to reauthorize some $255 million in financing on time. The money came back because Senate education leaders reached a compromise on a broader dispute that had entangled financing for black schools. 
Neither the lapse nor the restoration was directly tied in any way to the Trump administration. 
The Trump administration generally has supported historically black colleges, as previous administrations have done, and it's true that such schools have faced financial struggles and some have closed. The Trump administration has expanded access to federal support for black schools with religious affiliations and in 2018 forgave federal loans given to several of them after hurricanes. 
But this segment of university education was not vanishing and Trump is not its savior.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Declaring yourself the savior of African-Americans isn't a great idea even if you're not Donald Trump.