President Trump was interviewed by Tucker Carlson during his trip to Japan. After a question about Big Tech, Carlson pointed out that when you walk through the city of Osaka or Tokyo, it’s very clean. There are no tents, trash or human waste on the sidewalks. “It’s very nice, isn’t it?” Trump said.
“Very different from our cities,” Carlson said.
“Yup,” Trump replied, adding, “Well, no — some of our cities.”
“It’s a phenomenon that started two years ago. It’s disgraceful,” Trump said. It wasn’t clear what he meant by that. We’ve obviously had homelessness for decades in major cities. Trump seemed to be suggesting that it had reached a new level in the last two years. And while it sounds at first as if he’s taking ownership, he makes clear later that he believes this is the result of decisions by a “liberal establishment” that are hard to understand.
“You can’t have what’s happening, where police officers are getting sick just by walking the beat,” Trump said. He didn’t specify but he could be referring to a recent report from Los Angeles where an officer working in downtown LA contracted typhoid.
Trump pointed out that some of the people on the street have mental problems to such a degree that they aren’t able to help themselves. He then pointed out that this was not only creating a bad experience for the homeless people themselves but also for people who have to work in the areas where the homeless are living. This is something that people in liberal bastions like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have been saying more and more openly for months.
“This is the liberal establishment. This is what I’m fighting,” Trump said, referring to the elected officials in these cities. He continued, “I don’t know if they’re afraid of votes. I don’t know if they really believe that this should be taking place, but it’s a terrible thing that’s taking place.” Later in the interview, he returned to this idea: “The thing that nobody can figure out is, do these governors or mayors, do they really think this is a positive? Do they really think this is okay, cause it’s not.”
As for what to do about it, Trump was vague but said, “We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up.” But he also added that there were limits to what government could do, “We have to take the people and do something. We have to do something. And we’re really not very equipped as a government to be doing that kind of work. That’s not really the kind of work that the government probably should be doing.”
I’d argue he’s right on both points. We probably do have to do something about people who are struggling with addictions and mental illness and making the streets unsafe and unsanitary for others. At the same time, that sort of intervention is not something that fits comfortably with the American view of freedom and self-determination. Our institutions were created by people deeply concerned about the ability of government to misuse its power over individuals. Homelessness is a kind of worst-case scenario for those ideas, one where what the individual wants is often at odds with what is best for them and everyone around them. Still, having the government (at any level) use its power to coerce them into living differently is an uncomfortable step for a lot of people.
Trump concludes by saying, “It’s not our country. It’s not what our country is all about.” Homelessness is definitely a stain on our cities. I’d love to see Trump take this on as a major initiative. It needs to be done and it’s one area of public life where just being blunt about the problem from the bully pulpit would go a long way toward breaking up some of the talking points from institutions who’ve become very good at talking while the problem only seems to get worse.
Here’s the clip queued up to the question about homelessness: