Trump Envisions an Urban Renaissance for America — and Working With Democrats To Achieve His Goal

This isn’t something you’d expect to hear from the leading Republican presidential candidate.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file
Washington Metropolitan Police investigate near the Supreme Court and the Capitol. AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file

President Trump may have broken historic ground with his victory speech after winning the Iowa Caucus. He spoke about saving cities — and working with Democrats to achieve that goal. This isn’t something you’d expect to hear from the leading Republican presidential candidate.

It has been a long time since Republicans have expressed positive attitudes toward cities. Our major cities are dominated by Democrats and filled with huge bureaucracies. They are hobbled by wasteful union work rules and operate within a liberal — and at times radical — culture. For decades, it has been easier for Republicans to ignore big cities.

The news press, which is largely centered in big cities, has also routinely been anti-Republican. Insensitive Republican policies and an aggressively liberal press led to the famous October 30, 1975, New York Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” 

Since cities have historically voted for Democrats, Republicans have focused on and mobilized suburban, small town, and rural voters to overcome the Democrats’ urban advantage. 

We changed this attitude when I was Speaker of the House in 1995 — at least with regard to our national capital. Washington, D.C., was such a mess at the time that I asked Congressman Tom Davis, a freshman who had been a brilliant chairman of Fairfax County, Virginia, to develop a plan to rescue the district. 

We took decisive action. We took control of the city’s finances. We passed tax laws to create incentives for people and businesses to move into Washington. We dramatically strengthened city law enforcement to bring crime under control. Finally, we worked to improve the city’s school system — and bring school choice to the district. 

From that experience, I knew that a solid conservative approach to modernizing and renewing cities could work. I learned this initially from working with Congressman Jack Kemp of Buffalo, New York. He was a passionate advocate of renewing cities with conservative principles.

Mr. Trump is now building on that background. In his victory speech in Iowa on January 15, he was incredibly clear. He pledged to remove graffiti on our historic buildings and monuments and clean up garbage in the streets. He also said he would address head-on the district’s increasing violent crime. 

“We want a country of law and order, so we’re going to rebuild the capital of our country, Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to rebuild our beautiful Washington, D.C., and we’re going to take control of it and we’re going to make unbelievably harsh penalties for people that go around shooting, last week they shot three people and every night something happens it’s so sad.” 

Mr. Trump’s city vision extends well beyond our national capitol. He went on to say, “likewise we are going to rebuild our cities, and we’ll work with the Democrats to do it. I’ll be glad to work with the people in New York, we’re going to work with the people in Chicago, and LA. We’re going to rebuild our cities, and we’re going to make them safe. And we’re going to give our police officers immunity so every time they do something they don’t get sued and stopped and end crime in our cities.”

If Democratic mayors, city councils, governors, and state legislatures can bring themselves to return this offer of cooperation and collaboration, America might be on the edge of an urban renaissance. 

In one sense, it should not be surprising that Mr. Trump wants to revitalize America’s cities. He was born at Queens. For most of his adult life he has lived at Manhattan. He understands and loves big cities — especially New York. Many of his best investments have been in urban America. Much of his career has required working with city and state governments.

A new Trump presidency that focused on renewing urban America could be truly historic. It could dramatically close the urban-rural divide and make our nation stronger, safer, and far more prosperous.


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