In an interview on Monday with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the President made some vague threats about “interceding” in cities with high homeless populations such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
"We're looking at it very seriously. We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up. We have to take the people and do something," Trump said.
In his rambling responses, the President also falsely claimed that "the major problem with filth," which was the dehumanizing phrase Carlson used to describe the homelessness crisis, started "two years ago." The two then spent the entire time nailing cities on the issue. Neither Trump nor Carlson mentioned Seattle by name, but Trump added that the problem "usually" exists in "sanctuary cities" and in states "run by very liberal people."
But Trump and Carlson don't care about clearly defining the scope of the issue and working to solve it, because solving the problem would require not making "deep cuts in housing and development programs" at the federal level, which is what the Trump administration is doing. They want to tie homelessness to liberal cities because they want everyone to believe that liberal policies create homelessness, and not tax cuts for the rich, funding cuts for public housing programs, and dumb criminal justice policies that keep people locked in a cycle of poverty.
Trump's other comments on the issue chimed with local conservative activists (and some Amazon-backed city council candidates!) who think some homeless people "choose" to be homeless, and who long for the council to "take the people and do something" with them.
"Some of them have mental problems where they don't even know they're living that way," Trump said. "In fact, perhaps they like living that way."
The idea that a significant number of people sleeping on the street are "choosing" to be homeless because they like the lifestyle echoes nonsense from Todd Herman and other right-wing radio hosts. Though some homeless people refuse services and shelter, according to the 2019 Point-In-Time count, most report that they do so because they feel unsafe, the shelters have bugs or germs in them, and because they're too crowded.
Over the phone, Daniel Malone, executive director for the Downtown Emergency Service Center, acknowledged that some people refuse shelter due to conditions, but added that "the fact of the matter is the shelters are full, and so lots of people are choosing them."
Malone said the assumption that some people "prefer" sleeping outside or are "oblivious to their conditions" is "totally wrong."
"Usually people are just being offered the wrong thing," Malone said. "Even thinking about shelter: If you had the most pristine shelter with lots of room for everybody, it still wouldn't be home for somebody. It'd still be a shared space that someone else is running, which very often brings with it other kinds of conditions, such as they have to talk to somebody who is going to tell them about the changes they must make in their lives. The last thing people have control over is their own decision-making, so giving that up is a pretty significant thing for people. And that's what I think we're seeing when people deny services. What they're being offered is coming at too high a price for them."
Malone pointed to the success of 1811 Eastlake, a permanent supportive housing program run by DESC that serves the kinds of people conservatives accuse of "choosing" to sleep on the streets. "We didn't have to talk to very many of them to fill the place," Malone said. "When you offered them housing they had control over and that didn't come with a lot of strings, they accepted that readily."
Trump could have been a talking head on KOMO's fear-mongering, schlocky TV special, Seattle Is Dying with lines like, "We cannot ruin our cities...you have people who work in those cities, they work in office buildings, and to get into the building they have to walk through a scene nobody believed possible three years ago."
And the President's threat to "take the people and do something," which to me sounds like a threat to bring in federal law enforcement agents to "clean up" these cities, reflects law-and-order approaches embraced by conservative radio host Saul Spady, who says he wants to send homeless people who commit crimes to "farm jails." It also sounds like Seattle Is Dying fans, who want to ship the homeless off to McNeil Island and force them into medication-assisted treatment.
When asked for a response to Trump's vague threats to "take the people and to do something" in cities like Seattle, a spokesman for Mayor Jenny Durkan appeared to welcome any civil response from the feds. "To truly address the crisis, we need everyone at the table: local government, service providers, philanthropy, employers, the state, and—yes, the federal government," the spokesman wrote. "No matter what this president says, we will continue to do all we can to support our most vulnerable neighbors—and we need the federal government as partners." Alright.
The parallels between Seattle conservatives and Trump's talking points are not accidental. Christopher Rufo, a failed city council candidate and hypocritical civility hound, has been on Carlson's show a couple times this year talking about the dangers of not locking up homeless people who commit "survival crimes," and talking about how the homeless crisis is fueled by drugs and not by the housing crisis.
That's a direct line from Rufo to Carlson to Trump. Though Trump said in the interview he was busy doing other "important things," if the local conservative echo chamber keeps amplifying this law-and-order message on homelessness, they might catch Trump's attention long enough for him to do "something" about it here. And that "something" doesn't sound too civil.