Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump has attempted to position himself as the "law and order candidate," utilizing hysterical rhetoric to stoke fears of soaring rates of violent crime and of the threat posed not just by international terrorism, but also by violence at home.
In the aftermath of horrific shootings and terrorist attacks, Trump's narrative can be difficult to counter. But when one takes a bigger picture approach, examining crime trends over the last several decades, it is clear that Trump's "Make America Safe Again" slogan — a slogan featured on the first day of the Republican convention — is more style than substance.
Many have pointed to the fact that Donald Trump's portrayal of America as a nation beleaguered by unprecedented rates of violent crime sounds a lot like the message Richard Nixon used in 1968, a message that ultimately propelled him to the presidency.
The period in which Nixon deployed this rhetoric to great success was indeed a period beset by racial tension and violence. As New York Times reporters Michael Barbaro and Alexander Burns note in a recent article, Trump is attempting to tap into this same theme.
"In an evening of severe speeches evoking the tone and themes of Nixon's successful 1968 campaign," they write, referring to the opening night of the Republican convention, "Mr. Trump's allies and aides proudly portrayed him as the heir to the disgraced former president's law-and-order message, his mastery of political self-reinvention and his rebukes of overreaching liberal government."
But to compare 1968 to 2016, one must, as the Times reporters note, exaggerate and simplify the circumstances of both periods.
"The backdrop of Nixon's election was a nation absorbing the seismic upheavals of the Vietnam War, the Voting Rights Act, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and widespread rioting in America's cities," Barbaro and Burns write.