Analysis: The Shadow Trump Cast over Springfield…
In the death throes of his administration and the insurrection he incited, Donald Trump, his Twitter feed reduced to an echo on the Internet Archive, has become a mere shade of himself. More than five years after his fateful escalator ride, however, the impact he had on America (and Earth) is undeniable. Though somewhat insulated within the blue bubble of its commonwealth, he has left a Trump-shaped indentation upon Springfield, too.
Generally speaking, the coarsening of the dialogue and conversation Trump caused filtered down to Springfield. However, to the extent his agenda existed, it centered on a few issues that unmistakably affected the City of Homes. Immigration and refugees, usually too remote for a meat-and-potatoes panel like the City Council, seized the body. Yet, oddly enough, though, a man who once urged police to rough up suspects had an indirect hand in a reckoning for Springfield’s Finest.
Like any overwhelmingly Democratic city, Springfield was not friendly territory to Trump. While his maladministration affected the entire nation—see also, coronavirus—his focus on immigration and policing burned on a pyre of racism and xenophobia. That weighed heavily on a city as diverse as Springfield.
Even before Trump was anything more than must-we-see? TV, city politics in Springfield had been a redoubt from the culture war kindling that powered his political success. Matters of race, gender and equity were very present. Despite a municipal electorate that was whiter than the actual population, Springfield pols could not ignore these issues. Yet, for better or for worse, such debates had been hardly all-consuming.
In the context of Trump’s fusillade against diverse communities like Springfield—and a mayor susceptible to it—that changed. Some reaction from the grassroots was inevitable. However, Springfield’s changing City Council also stepped up.
The rise of ward representation changed conversations at the Council. Even at-large councilors, still elected from the same electorate that once chose the whole Council, began to respond and adopt concerns their ward colleagues were raising.
This was most apparent on immigration and refugees. Mayor Domenic Sarno’s distasteful rhetoric about refugees and immigrants predated Trump. The mayor’s attempt to intimidate South Congregational Church via building inspector after it began sheltering an undocumented immigrant matched the xenophobia of the last four years. Even Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Trump would not violate a church’s sanctuary. Yet his immigration-related threats to funding prompted Sarno to enter a dispute to which the city was not a party.
Thankfully, that imbroglio ended peaceably enough. Gisella Collazo, the women sheltering at South Congregational, received a reprieve from the feds. Sarno all but backed off as condemnation became nearly unanimous. Even the mayor’s now-chief of staff joined the rest of his colleagues to nail shut the coffin on this crusade of Sarno’s.
Still the atmosphere of the anti-immigrant remained thick. When Trump allowed municipalities to decline the settlement of refugees, Sarno raised his hand. Rising venom toward undocumented immigrant spilled over to Latino-presenting residents generally.
When the Springfield City Council attempted to clarify that city services should be available to undocumented residents without fear—to benefit of all residents regardless of status—Sarno again exploded with righteous indignation. Unlike his counterparts in cities like Boston and Hartford, the leader of a diverse city was not supporting its own residents. Again, this was not new. The late Jafet Robles infamously called Sarno “baby Trump.”
Unlike the South Congregational situation, the Council was not unanimous. Some councilors succumbed to loud but unrepresentative voices in the community. Nonetheless, the Welcoming Communities Trust ordinance became law over Sarno’s veto, barring the city—and especially police—from collecting immigration status unless otherwise required by law.
When it comes to the impact of Trump’s rhetoric generally, the full impact may never be known. No doubt many in Springfield parroted his poisonous pablum. However, it is impossible to read every Facebook account in the Pioneer Valley. Yet, there is some reason to believe Trump emboldened some supporters. Would Chris Pohner have ever run, given his grotesque online history, had Trump never won the White House?
If President-elect Joe Biden even half-succeeds at healing the country, these more venomous Trump legacies in Springfield could fade. Another element Trump’s legacy may not. If anything, Biden will continue it.
Over four years, Trump went out of his way to defend police no matter how bad they behaved. Aside from a few extreme videos, they could do no wrong in his eye. When protesters demanded reform, Trump gassed them. Yet, he probably does not know one of his appointments took a different path.
Andrew Lelling could have become Massachusetts’s United States Attorney under any presidnet. A career federal prosecutor, the US Senate confirmed his nomination on a voice vote, meaning Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren raised no objection. Lelling took office amid the investigation of Gregg Bigda. His civil rights unit convinced him to urge the Justice Department in Washington to take a deep dive into Pearl Street.
The result was the only patterns and practices investigation the Trump administration launched. The probe hung over the Police Department and Mayor’s office for years. When Lelling and the Justice Department released its damning report, even then-Attorney General Bill Barr, who himself almost always unconditionally backs cops, condemned the behavior of the Springfield Police Department narcotics bureau.
Biden is poised to replace Lelling, but Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland and his deputies will almost certainly pursue reforms at Pearl Street.
The report and investigation did not grab headlines outside of New England, given the presidential campaign and the coronavirus. Perhaps it is fitting that Trump’s most enduring legacy in Springfield—and probably the only good one—came about from his own ineptitude.
Lelling was probably little more than a name the establishment Republican class of Massachusetts recommended. Trump probably does not even realize an investigation counter to his own unqualified defense of police, happened, let alone which Springfield’s police department his DOJ put under a microscope.