Opinion: Mississippi, a political opportunity

Posted on Oct 23 2017 - 8:00am by Francisco Hernandez

I can’t think of a better way to salvage the presidency of Donald Trump than with a federal investment plan for the most impoverished regions of the country, starting with the state of Mississippi.

The poorest state is also home to one of the poorest regions in the country — the Mississippi Delta. Making America great again surely should start with chronically poor regions.

There are many ways Trump could help Mississippi and, particularly, the counties in the Delta. Mississippi already receives way more in federal funding than it contributes with taxes, but more long-term investments are needed if we’re ever to break this vicious cycle.

Education, vocational training, scholarships for college, health promotion, healthcare services, affordable childcare so that single mothers can enter the labor force and local infrastructure — all of these could benefit from more extensive long-term investment programs.

Since the president also boasts being a great businessman and dealmaker, he could also bring more economic activity to the Delta. Mississippi is already attractive to manufacturing companies because of its low wages and weak unionization. Training programs for residents of the Delta and tax breaks for companies that choose to relocate there could make the area even more appealing to investors.

To make these ideas legislatively possible, Trump could make it a part of the vague infrastructure plan he promised during the campaign. Federal aid in the form of long-term investment for the poorest state in the nation should not be hard to sell to Congress or to the American people.

Furthermore, now a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall, Puerto Rico and its struggling population of 3.5 million should be a priority. The U.S. territory is in much worse economic and infrastructural condition than Mississippi. Structural reforms, including a path to statehood or independence, will be of vital importance there after the immediate crisis is solved.

But the president is in dire need of political victories, and it’s way too late to score one of those from the Puerto Rican crisis. After an incompetent response and a lack of focus from the president, even more doubts remain about Trump’s ability to represent those outside his base of voters.

Mississippi could be a perfect opportunity for the president to redeem himself. Besides the obvious socioeconomic benefits that a more comprehensive federal aid program would have for this state and for the U.S. as a whole, an investment plan for the Magnolia State could also be a political victory for Trump.

He could quiet the voices of those who say he is only interested in the economic advancement of a white working class, and deny the growing evidence of his troublesome views on race by investing in the Delta, a region where the legacy of America’s original sin remains strong.

This would reduce the power of Democrats to question his ability to represent all Americans, and it could prove that his campaign slogan of “Making America Great Again” was not just a dog whistle for white supremacist nostalgia.

The best part is that Trump wouldn’t even have to understand the history and institutional legacy of the impoverished Delta. He would just have to see it as a political opportunity — one that would also help countless lives.

I would expect this level of reflection and political savoir-faire from the president as much as I would expect him to stop tweeting. But I would love it if he proved me wrong.

Francisco Hernandez is a senior international studies major from Valencia, Spain.