Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen’s recent article in the Commercial Appeal, “Trump budget hurts African-Americans,” employs a familiar pattern of fear tactics in an attempt to deflect from his lackluster leadership and the state of his Ninth Congressional District.
While Cohen publicly resists the Trump administration, Memphis desperately needs not just a partisan voice in Washington, but leadership and action. In 2016 alone, Memphis lost 228 people to homicide, up from 161 homicides in 2015—the most murders in over two decades.
The Ninth Congressional District has one of the highest poverty rates of any urban city in the United States. Eighty percent of the worst-performing schools in Tennessee are in Memphis. These public schools serve Cohen’s constituents. What solutions has he proposed to stop the bloodshed and poverty?
Cohen has been an elected official since 1977, when he was elected to the Tennessee Constitutional Convention at age 27. Since then he has worked on the County Commission and in the state Senate, and been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007. He’s to be commended for his service, but he has no excuse to pass the buck for Memphis’s problems onto a proposed federal budget.
Blame Some Other Guy for Our Problems?
In his attack on President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, Cohen’s message is that African-Americans are beholden to and buttressed by federal assistance, and a Trump presidency will harm African-Americans’ progress. “While some African-Americans have enjoyed prosperity and acceptance,” he writes, “it is undeniable that African-Americans still suffer from vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow.”
Does he offer any solutions for how African-Americans can all be “accepted” and climb the economic ladder in the district he represents? No, he deflects while insulting President Trump’s team.
Social change has always been more effective when formed and led through local communities, not in Washington. The federal government always will play an essential role in American society, but Americans should not view government as the solution to our problems. Memphis is a grit and grind city. We roll up our sleeves and get to work, but the representation the city receives from Washington isn’t aligned with the city’s culture. Local efforts must drive a U.S. representative’s voice in Washington to move our nation forward.
In his article, Cohen deflects on major community issues. His only remedy is more government programs and spending: “Discrimination and institutional racism have held so many [African-Americans] back and left many in need of government relief.”
President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America” during his 1964 State of the Union address. Since then, the federal government has spent more than $20 trillion supporting anti-poverty programs. Today, almost 50 percent of African-American children in Memphis live in poverty. An estimated 18.4 percent of metro Memphis residents live below the federal poverty threshold. Memphis ranks in the top three on most lists of U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates. Has the War on Poverty defeated poverty? Obviously not.
Stop Pointing Fingers and Do Something, Buddy
After Trump’s presidential victory, Cohen wrote that “At this time in our history, hope and change have unfortunately become fear and dread” and “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is turning into a nightmare.” Memphians are no stranger to Dr. King’s dream, and it is disappointing to hear this negative tone from a sitting member of Congress. King extended the olive branch to leaders who had radically different views. Many considered President Johnson a racist, but King worked with him on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
What if King had decided to sit on the sidelines and “resist” President Johnson? Where would our nation be? Instead of working on behalf of his constituents on the important issues facing Memphis, Cohen has chosen to focus his time in DC on deflecting responsibility for his constituents’ situation through political propaganda. He should stop pointing fingers in Washington and work towards solutions that will move America forward. For example, he could focus on education and economic sustainability, which would affect the homicide and unemployment rates that sadly plague the local community and create an unsafe environment.
The federal government is powerful, but not as powerful as the voice of local communities. Many Americans, including myself, have been the beneficiary of federal and state government assistance and programs. But more fundamentally, all citizens, including African-Americans, benefit from being born in a nation that promotes freedom and prosperity, and from dedicated families and communities who instill the importance of hard work, dedication, and giving back.
High homicide rates, underperforming schools, and high poverty rates are the real issues plaguing my hometown of Memphis and creating roadblocks, not President Trump’s 2018 federal budget.
Cohen isn’t the root cause of decades of poverty in Memphis, of course. But he has simply touted more expansive government programs for years and used fear-mongering instead of leading a solutions-driven process that addresses deeply rooted problems. If Cohen wants to “resist” the Trump administration, as he did by boycotting the inauguration and continues to do through interviews and articles, he can do it from Memphis—not in our nation’s capital and not on the taxpayers’ dime.