Donald Trump's Crime Rhetoric Is Absurd: Violent Crime Has Been Falling For Decades

Jake Johnson

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.

Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly made claims like the one Trump himself made on Twitter recently.

"Crime," he wrote, "is out of control, and rapidly getting worse."

Trump, of course, has built his political brand on being a reactionary, an individual who jumps to take advantage of headlines and to insert himself into the story as the savior in waiting.

But by saying crime is "rapidly getting worse," Trump is, predictably, ignoring troves of data that say, on the contrary, that violent crime has fallen drastically over the last several decades.

As the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham observes, "America today is already safer than it has been in decades. In fact, today's homicide rate is about as low as it's been at any time since at least 1900."

Ingraham notes that by promising to "make America safe again," Donald Trump is implying the existence of a period "in the good old days" when crime was under control and Americans were able to go about their lives completely unhindered by violent crime or terrorism.

The problem is that during almost any period one can point to in recent history, violent crime was worse than it is today.

"In the past several years," Ingraham notes, "the [homicide] rate has hovered around the historic lows last seen in the early 1960s."

Ingraham concedes that in some cities, Trump's narrative may hit closer to home. But in the United States taken as a whole, "The homicide rate is historically low. Statistically speaking, you were more likely to get murdered in the 1950s than you are today."

Trump and his allies' narrative about a "war on cops" also collapses under scrutiny. While the recent targeted killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are profoundly disturbing, those who use these attacks to blame President Obama for stoking racial animus, and even for provoking violence against police officers, similarly ignore the facts.

"Under Obama, the average number of police intentionally killed each year has fallen to its lowest level yet — an average of 62 deaths annually through 2015. If you include the 2016 police officer shootings year-to-date and project it out to a full year, that average of 62 deaths doesn't change."

[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]