During the 2016 campaign, Trump had painted black neighborhoods as hellscapes from which there was no way out. “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs,” Trump said at a rally in Michigan in 2016, trying to court black voters. “What the hell do you have to lose?”
Sitting together in the Oval Office that day, Cummings was blunt. The 13-term congressman told the president that his words were “insulting” and that “most black people are doing pretty good.” Trump didn’t get defensive or angry. He listened quietly, taking it in, Cummings recalled. “Probably nobody has ever told you that,” Cummings told the president. “You’re right—nobody has ever told me that,” Trump replied.
They parted on good terms, agreeing to talk more. Soon enough, it all came undone. That summer, Trump would tell reporters that there were very fine people “on both sides” of the clash between white supremacists and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.