In horrible shape, falling apart — and headed to the conference championship

By Tom Baxter

Our Town, always hungry to put itself on the map, suddenly finds itself hosting the Packers in the NFC Conference championship game and the subject of a Donald Trump tweet war. Henry Grady Nirvana, in a perverse, 21st Century way.

5th congressional district, enhanced map

The 5th District that John Lewis represents in Congress contains the spiritual and economic spirit of metro Atlanta, as well as the core of state government. President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the district is, “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to……mention crime infested).” Credit: Wikipedia, SaportaReport photo pick contributors, Britton Edwards

Trump’s weekend side-slap at Rep. John Lewis’ 5th Congressional District has unleashed a torrent of civic pride on social media. Whether it was appropriate for Lewis to say Trump wasn’t a “legitimate” president, or smart for the president-elect to lash back at a revered civil rights figure right before the King holiday and his own inauguration, the tweets and Matt Ryan’s arm have worked wonders on the local psyche.

Not that it was intended that way. Trump’s description of the 5th District — “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested)” — and his general alarm over “the burning and crime-invested inner cities of the U.S.” evokes Tex McIver’s story of how he mistook some men hanging around outside a downtown Atlanta homeless shelter late on a Saturday night for Black Lives Matter protesters, and asked his wife for the revolver in the glove compartment of their van. It’s less about a place in either case, and more about a delusional sense of racial anxiety, or the exploitation of it, and what might ultimately come about as a result of it.

In a simpler time, something called the “inner city” could be located as the epicenter of the country’s biggest social problems. As we’ve noted before, a number of the worst cases of late 20th Century urban blight have become upscale and gentrified.

Not all the 5th District, which in its latest configuration includes portions of DeKalb and Clayton counties as well as most of the City of Atlanta, has grown more prosperous. The Instagram pictures of Ponce City Market and Centennial Park only tell part of the story. But the district is on much more solid ground, as a center for business, philanthropy and education, than it was when Lewis was elected to his first term in 1986. It isn’t burning and it isn’t falling apart, but on many streets, Google Fiber installations are way behind schedule.

These days, poverty and crime infest the edges of cities, and rural areas have their share of social despair. The United States Donald Trump will govern come this Friday isn’t a country where our troubles fit so easily into the old categories.

It’s been suggested that our civic leader extend an olive branch to Trump in an effort to smooth things over, but our time would be better spent worrying about Julio Jones’ toe. Trump doesn’t seem to have much trouble getting over these things. When he was working on a real estate deal in Atlanta a few years ago he loved the place. He’ll have much more to worry about in a very short time, anyway.

John Lewis

Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) spoke Monday on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday of civil rights events. Credit: Zuma Press via wsj.com

Trump has on several occasions distracted the media from more important stories by tweeting about the passing controversies of the hour. The question is whether that has been intentional or coincidental.

The tweets in response to Lewis’ televised comments may have quashed some of the questions that could have been raised about Trump’s “insurance for everybody” guarantee, but that might have been preferable to getting into a public spat like this at a time when so much else is at stake for his presidency.

It’s easy to repeat the particulars of Lewis’ civil rights sainthood and miss the steely instincts of a politician who had one enormous challenge to overcome in winning his seat — upsetting Julian Bond — and has insured his longevity since then with much attention to his district.

Lewis also has an eye for the jugular, and no hesitation in using his reputation much as, at one time, he might have used his body. That makes him someone the president-elect might want to avoid tweeting about.

Republican Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter couldn’t resist this temptation, calling Lewis a “racist pig” on his Facebook account and drawing outrage from local Democrats.

Amazon, in the meanwhile, has sold out of Lewis’ biography since the weekend.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

27 replies
  1. ironiclad says:

    I’m a constituent of Lewis and I thought his remarks were inappropriate and hateful – especially since Dems are supposed to be people of compassion, understanding, inclusion, etc. Where’s that spirit gone? Lewis would do a back flip if you called some of his district’s children illegitimate. I don’t give a flying one about some football team’s record when my community is being vandalized and invaded. And I live in Druid Hills (city of Atlanta). What must other parts of Lewis’ district be like to live in?
    We stopped watching local news – it’s nothing but carjackings, homicides, assaults, murder trials and home invasions.
    Maybe Lewis should stop shooting off his mouth long enough to look crime stats in his city – and drive around (not in a flashy limo).Report

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  2. Cityzen says:

    ironiclad John Lewis’s statement that Trump’s election, orchestrated by Putin with an assist from Comey, is illegitimate is the conclusion of a patriot and moral leader who believes in democracy and calls out autocracy and bigotry.  The US needs more leaders like John Lewis. Atlantans are blessed to have him as our representative.

    Maybe you should get out into District 5 more.  Your instinct to stop watching trashy local TV news is a good start.  Talented millennials are flocking to the city and consequently growth firms are setting up shop in town.  They appreciate the diversity, openness, tolerance and vibrancy they find here.  6,000 new quality jobs in 2015, 7,000 in 2016, from firms like GE Digital, Honeywell, Anthem, Keysight, UPS and NCR.  Far from falling apart, we’re the envy of the suburbs.Report

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  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, despite the City of Chicago’s multiplying failures. There is no correlation between professional sports success and municipal well-being.

    Rep. Lewis and his like are what Booker T. Washington warned against in his autobiography “Up From Slavery”,
    “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”Report

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  4. atlman says:

    atlman ironiclad
    Ugh. I hate Javascript!!! Anyway (from another browser that handles Javascript a lot better):

    ironiclad

    Sigh. John Lewis has never been mayor, city councilman or police chief in Atlanta, so the crime rate in Atlanta is pinned on him how, exactly? Second, conservatives love to race bait by associating the crime rate of areas with black – and only black – politicians. That is why the murder rate in Chicago became a frequent meme of conservatives after Obama got elected: never mind that Obama never held any elected or law enforcement office in Chicago, or that Chicago has had a single black mayor in its entire history, and that was nearly 40 years ago. 
    The issue: we never hear about crime rates when it comes to Republicans elected from those same areas. Conservatives, for example, do not hold Nathan Deal responsible for Atlanta or Columbus crime. Nor did they hold George W. Bush for crime in Dallas and Houston. Had Deal and Bush been black Democrats, they most certainly would have been. More to the point: crime has been rising in Cobb and Gwinnett for years. The next “conservative” who makes an issue out of that for the Republicans who dominate the elected offices in those areas  – including the U.S. Congressmen – will be the first. The same is true about the rising meth and heroin epidemics in a lot of Appalachian and rural areas, along with the rising unemployment and suicide rates and yes – the rising out of wedlock birth rates in those areas (and the rising dependency on government programs … one of the states with the highest Obamacare signup rates was heavily Appalachian Kentucky). The next time Trump or any other conservative even so much as talks about this issue, let alone tie it to the uniformly GOP mayors, governors, and congressmen in those areas will be the first. 

    Trump made a good point: John Lewis has been a spectacularly ineffective legislator who is still living off his accomplishments of 50 years ago during the Civil Rights movement when his district could definitely use someone more effective at getting jobs, federal projects etc. in the district such as a Kasim Reed. Unfortunately he totally ruined his good point with Jim Crow nonsense. Fortunately – for him – he won the debate by exposing Lewis as having a track record of calling GOP president-elects “illegitimate” and “boycotting” their inaugurations. But what should have been an excellent chance to push back against partisan and ideological shilling was ruined by Trump’s own bad instincts. Trump knows that Atlanta isn’t the basket case that he – and you – falsely claim. How do we know this? From all the times that Trump held fundraisers here!!!Report

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  5. ironiclad says:

    I can’t avoid being out and about in the district. Happy to hear those stats. When retirement happens, we want to turn around our home ASAP and be on to a smaller city in another state.
    As for Lewis’s remark, it was nonsensical and diminished him. The people who matter at the inauguration won’t miss him and his sour colleagues.Report

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  6. atlman says:

    Folks who are backing Trump in this conveniently ignore such things as the city’s steep drop in crime the past 6-7 years, to where it is now the lowest that it has been since the 1960s. I suppose that Atlanta’s mayor – by forcing out the previous police chief, hiring a new one, and going on a hiring binge of new officers – should get the same credit that Rudy Giuliani got when crime dropped in his city. It is funny … the drop in crime during Giuliani’s tenure was trumpeted for years by GOPers, and still is to this day. (The abject failure to replicate Giuliani’s success in other places that it has been tried, most notably Los Angeles, hasn’t been spoken of much. Neither is the fact that NYC’s crime rate continued to fall long after Giuliani left office, and even after a judge ended NYC’s stop-and-frisk policy.) But the drop in crime in Atlanta gets no mention from Republicans, in Georgia or elsewhere. Why is that?

    The drop in the city’s unemployment rate, the large (and small) new employers coming into the city, the new residents gentrifying formerly rundown areas downtown and midtown, the improvement of the city’s bond rating due to handling the pensions problem … that doesn’t get acknowledged either. Why not? Pretending as if Atlanta is Detroit – or that it is even as dysfunctional as it was in the 80s with the crime wave, 90s with corruption and Freaknik, or the 00s with the crime/unemployment/foreclosures/pension/infrastructure crises – only makes legitimate complaints that Trump and others may have against Lewis, Reed and other Atlanta leaders discredited. 
    Acknowledge the successes – and they have been very real – and you can talk about such things as Reed’s failure to embrace school choice, his failure to find the best bids for Fort McPherson/the Civic Center/Underground, his losing the Braves etc. And you can talk about how Lewis has been thoroughly ineffective as a U.S. Congressman and how that district would benefit from someone who is much better versed at and motivated to win the constituent services/special projects game. Newt Gingrich – for example – was very successful in bringing home the pork to Cobb County, and this despite Gingrich allegedly being a small government less spending fiscal conservative, and getting the goods from Reagan/Bush administrations who claimed to be the same! So why has Lewis, a proud big government big spending guy, done so little to benefit from the potential largesse of Clinton and Obama administrations? 
    Talk about that and you are a winner. Falsely try to pass off Atlanta as Detroit, East Saint Louis or 80s/90s Washington D.C. and you are doing nothing but indulging in Strom Thurmond/Orval Faubus politics.Report

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  7. atlman says:

    ironiclad

    “And I live in Druid Hills (city of Atlanta). What must other parts of Lewis’ district be like to live in?”
    I imagine that nearly everyone in Buckhead, the Beltline, the Georgia Tech/GSU corridor etc. are very happy with it. I know that the real estate people are, with home prices skyrocketing and new condos and office towers going up left and right. I said “nearly everyone” because the “anti-gentrification” crowd – Vincent Fort types – aren’t nearly as pleased. But you can’t please everyone. It is amazing that “you can’t avoid being out and about” and somehow seem to have missed the huge boom in economic activity – and the corresponding decline in economic blight – that everyone else who actually lives in the city passes by every single day.Report

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  8. RWW says:

    atlman Crime is down substantially around the country.  Atlanta is just part of that trend. The 5th District still has serious crime and drug problems, as many have testified.Report

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  9. Margie Keith Cooper says:

    Good article. I hope there will be another one about the deafening silence of our two senators in coming to this district’s defense. Perhaps no one expected reps from other districts to weigh in, but the senators represent all of Georgia, supposedly.Report

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  10. Kathy Brooke says:

    Years ago my partner was mugged in the middle of the day while walking in suburban Atlanta. He gave the guy his money but wouldn’t give him his wallet. Crime is every where.Report

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  11. ironiclad says:

    atlman ironiclad You appear to be equating my remarks with political preferences. I’m not sure how you made this leap from my original comment. I voted Libertarian because it nauseated me to think of voting for the two sub-standard leading candidates, Trump and Mrs. Bill. I voted my conscious, rather than not voting. 

    Lewis is my representative. My family and I have lived for 30-plus years in a historic neighborhood – one that is among the most educated in this country (rated by various credible, academic sources). We have seen unprecedented growth in Druid Hills, but we have also witnessed a significant rise in crime. You quote many stats and have loads to say in defense of … hmmm, I’m not sure what. All I am saying is that I and hundreds of others are deeply unhappy about the crime in our neighborhood. No politics involved. And I refuse to be “race-baited,” because that is not who I am. It’s an easy, convenient punch, however, isn’t it? I wish people would get over their teen-aged girl-like emotions and move forward. Trump will be president, like it or not. 

    BTW, where in Atlanta do you live? Is Lewis your rep.?Report

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  12. ironiclad says:

    atlman ironiclad I didn’t address your question about Trump’s grasp of Atlanta crime. Never would I have attended any Trump (or Clinton) fundraisers, but I must assume his events did not occur in the  public housing Social Centers. 

    Having worked for many years in marketing, community relations and executive management, I admire Trump’s ability to zero in on problems and understand what it takes to actually get things done. No long, rambling, dissertations needed – or required. Why would he not know about Atlanta’s problems in lieu of the Chamber spin? Will he accomplish what he promised? That’s to be seen, but he is stocking his cabinet and staff with do-people who have track records of success – not dissertations. He may prove to be one of our most legitimate presidents in my lifetime. 

    For the record, among the books I read during the past six months are Hillbilly Elegy and The Underground Railroad. Both deserve all the recognition they have received.Report

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  13. ironiclad says:

    cc333 ironiclad Well, this makes me feel so much better, as I don’t live in those places but work and live here. That’s like saying, you’re ugly as h*ll but not half as ugly as these ten other people. 

    And Lewis’ district isn’t all about just crime. Check out the WSJ’s op-ed today piece on Lewis by Jason Riley, a black writer. Riley gives stats of another kind – how far behind a large percentage of the black population in Lewis’ district has fallen, especially as compared to others in the city who are in position to take advantage of Atlanta’s growth. I  don’t send links or read them.Report

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  14. Corey Boggess says:

    By all means since you know the district so well please tell us which areas you are referring to? Look there are some parts of the 5th district that are not great. The Bluff comes to mind. I can assure you growing up in Woodstock there were parts of that city I wouldn’t feel safe in either.Report

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  15. PSW says:

    I promise you that Mr. Lewis, and all who support him, will lose something over this affair. Atlanta is by no means an irrestiable city, even to those who were born here. So by all means, indulge your conceits, and indulge Mr. Lewis his faults. There will be a price.Report

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  16. Richard Ryan says:

    Ralph George if you’re from Woodstock, you can’t comment. Fair and square. I live “south of ponce” and am completely fine and at easy. My 1 bedroom rent is $1400 so obviously, there’s demand for people to want to live here.Report

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  17. Richard Ryan says:

    If I remember correctly, before Trumps property in my district was foreclosed on, he loved the district. Maybe he’s just salty U0001f44bU0001f3fcU0001f44bU0001f3fcReport

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  18. Ralph George says:

    I grew up in Atlanta. I lived in west end, east Atlanta, and north atlanta. When I was around 12 years old, we walked from the Ga state area to 14th street after dark. I am 69 years old now and no way I would do it!Report

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  19. Burroughston Broch says:

    Rep. Lewis states he does not remember pulling the same stunt at Pres. Bush 41’s inauguration in 2001. This is clear evidence of his reduced mental faculties. 5th District voters, take note.Report

    Reply

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