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law and order
Pundits Too Pat on Trump and Crime

True to form, Donald Trump made the threat of crime and violence one of the centerpieces of his address to Congress last night. And true to form, his critics were quick to point out that crime is near all-time lows and suggest that Trump’s is demagoguing the issue to lay the groundwork for a racist law-and-order crackdown.

Leaving aside the political implications, Trump’s critics are right that crime is significantly lower today than it has been for most of the last 50 years, and that Trump has often played fast-and-loose with the facts on this question. But they often leave out at least two data points that might make Trump’s relentless focus on the crime rate seem less sinister. First (as liberals are fond of pointing out when it comes to gun violence) America has a significantly higher rate of violent crime than most other developed countries. Shouldn’t we be able to bring it down? And second, the murder rate has risen at an alarming pace since 2014—and with crime, as with other social indicators like immigration or economic growth, it is often the rate of change, rather than the absolute level, that is felt most acutely.

The economist Lyman Stone has added a third data point that helps explain the potency of Trump’s approach to the crime debate: The geographic distribution of crime has changed, so that a larger-than-usual number of Americans live in counties with rising levels of violence. If views on crime are shaped by perceived risk in one’s own community, rather than national statistics, this could account for stronger law-and-order sentiment despite a crime rate that is low by historical standards overall. Here is an excerpt of Stone’s post, which is worth reading in full:

More people live amidst rising crime today than in the late 1990s. Now, the late 2000s were the real problem time, but it’s possible than from 2014, the last year in my data, to today in 2017, these numbers have risen. Given that murder rates have risen especially in Illinois which is not marked as one of my crime-rising states, it seems likely that this figure did rise in 2015, 2016, and will rise in 2017. In other words, by the time the 2016 elections occurred, the share of the population living amidst rising crime was probably very far above late-1990s levels.

All this is to say that while Trump must be held rigorously accountable to the facts, it is neither honest or productive for his critics to simply throw up their hands and declare that Trump is living in a fake news fueled alternate reality. He often speaks to real issues, and his opposition would be more effective if it acknowledged them rather than constructing factually-challenged echo chambers of its own.

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  • Gary Hemminger

    If all of a sudden cancer rates started rising 10% in some areas, even thought it was low by historical standards, people would take notice and ask why this is occurring. If something bad rose 10% but it was against some republican ideology to investigate it, they would say, we are at historic lows so what is the issue. Fake news.

    If something bad rose 10% but it was against some democrat ideology to
    investigate it, they would say, we are at historic lows so what is the
    issue? Fake news.

    Both sides are hypocrites. Everyone with a brain can now see that. What is the result of this? I don’t know, but it isn’t good.

    • FriendlyGoat

      The “result” of this is Republicans taking advantage of crime talk (increases or claimed credit for decreases) at any moment it could be advantageous to high-end tax cuts and corporate deregulation—–the actual evergreen purposes for the GOP’s existence. They used it to get elected and they will use it every time it is convenient to either rally conservative support for any GOP initiative or to smoke over and change any touchy subject which might hector them.
      Statistics are irrelevant. Crime talk is always durable all the way down to “Hey, isn’t even ONE violent crime too many? Hey, are we willing to turn our backs on even ONE potential victim?”

      • Tom

        The actual evergreen purposes of the Democrats, of course, being the provision of money to unproductive lawyers and bureaucrats.

  • KremlinKryptonite

    The government has been totally corrupt and lawless with selective enforcement of laws on immigration, Obamacare waivers for donors, and the failed Obama admin supporting left wing violence on campuses and in “BLM” which got started mourning fallen criminals.

  • Andrew Allison

    “it is neither honest or productive for his critics to simply throw up their hands and declare that Trump is living in a fake news fueled alternate reality” when, in fact, ” the murder rate has risen at an alarming pace since 2014″. There was, indisputably, a huge increase in violent crime under the watch of the previous administration. Obfuscating this fact by comparing the overall crime crime rate with the results of the Ferguson effect is not helpful.

  • Disappeared4x

    Well stated TAI. I would add that the unrelenting cable news broadcast focus of the BLM protests, mass shootings, and police assassinations since Ferguson, MO, unrelenting in being the ONLY news of the day/week, also create the perception of a breakdown in law & order.

    We are all living in a “fake news fueled alternate reality” when mass television media decides what is newsworthy.
    “…his opposition … [deliberately constructs] factually-challenged echo chambers of its own” when they manufacture an issue like transgender bathroom access. The disproportionate media coverage makes some/many think the issue must be a huge problem. Hamas in Gaza certainly does this.

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