Donald Trump is running for re-election this year, and a common message from his supporters is that he keeps his promises. It is an effort to portray Trump as having some core of honesty despite a widely documented propensity for overstatement, misstatement, and lies. It is a way to tell people that he might not tell the truth to his opponents, but he’ll tell the truth to you.
Let’s take a look at that. I’m going to go through Trump’s 2016 RNC speech and identify promises made. These were promises being delivered not to his enemies but to his most important and influential supporters; they were the people that most of his defenders incorrectly believe themselves to be.
First, his prefacing statement.
“(W)e will lead our country back to safety, prosperity, and peace. We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order. “
This has been demonstrably wrong in just about every way. If it is counted among his promises, it is utterly broken. We are not safe, we are not prosperous in any way other than Wall Street’s growth and that has been enacted by a transfer of wealth from our future and our childrens’ future; our generosity is now conditional to favors performed for the President; we attack our allies and our leader regularly derides both citizens and foreigners directly through Twitter; and we have gutted centuries of legal precedent in our efforts to keep Trump appeased. But let’s head into specifics.
“Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon and I mean very soon.”
If anyone wishes to argue that Trump is mentally incompetent and that his sentence fragment was intentional, I am open to that argument. Absent that, it is implied by the context that he meant the crime would soon decrease, because he then addressed specifics:
“These are the facts: Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. “
He then specifically addresses Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Chicago’s homicides have dropped during every year that President Trump has been in office: 756 in 2016, 650 in 2017, 564 in 2018, 490 in 2019. His implied promise was kept in that city… but not by him, nor by the federal government. The two factors which demonstrate the greatest effect on the homicide rate was the hiring of almost a thousand new officers starting in September, 2016, and the introduction of data-driven policing under a new Superintendent, Eddie Johnson.
Baltimore hasn’t fared as well. They had 318 homicides in 2016, 343 in 2017, 309 in 2018, and 348 in 2019. Nor has Washington, D.C.; that city had 135 homicides in 2016, 116 in 2017, 159 in 2018 and 163 in 2019.
Over the entire country, the homicide rates have, in fact, lowered, in accordance with Trump’s promise… but the numbers aren’t particularly great. According to the FBI’s web site, homicides dropped in 2018 compared to 2017 (and searching the site demonstrates that the homicide rate was a bit higher still in 2016) but the homicide rates under President Trump are higher than they were in 2009 and far higher than they were in 2014. Moreover, they’ve been historically low since the late 1990s; as the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows, there was a large spike in homicides throughout the terms of Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter (who also had a dip in the rate during the beginning of his tenure) and then again during the era of George H.W. Bush. There was a marked decline under Reagan, and a dramatic cut in the rate during the tenure of Bill Clinton. Since Clinton, the numbers have been stable between .004 and .006%, with only one year of Obama’s term – the Chicago-led 2016 – being higher than any of Trump’s years. So, yes, they’ve dropped under Trump, but as they’re still demonstrably worse than they were under Obama if one looks at the average and as there really isn’t much difference in the rates between Bush, Obama and Trump… the question becomes: why was this the first thing that was brought up at his speech?
The answer can be found in two places. The first is the Republican’s long-standing appeal to the value of law and order, referenced in the opening to his speech. This was represented by considering deaths of police officers.
“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent compared to this point last year. “
The Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund informs us that the numbers remained fairly constant from 2015 through 2018. The raw numbers: 2015, 162 dead; 2016, 174; 2017, 171; and 2018, 158. At the time of the convention, the rise through 2016 was 8%, according to the memorial fund numbers as reported at the time by NPR. That increase tracks with the eventual yearly numbers, giving strong credibility to NPR’s reporting on that point. In other words, Trump was simply providing an implicit lie, saying that 8% is “almost 50%”.
He moved immediately to immigration,:
Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens. The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.
Much has been made of the Trump administration’s actions on immigration, both legal and illegal. Much should be made of them. But the question central to this topic is this: have the Trump administration’s draconian efforts against both illegal border crossings and legal asylum seekers diminished crime?
The answer, from the numbers, is “no.” While the overall murder numbers and overall crime have diminished slightly, they are still above the similar results during the Obama tenure, and more importantly above those figures from a point at which the relatively open-door policy of Obama had been in effect for years. If violent crime is the chosen metric, Trump fares much better… going back to the FBI statistics shows a significant drop in violent crime compared to 2014, but it shows almost a 10% increase over the violent crime in 2009, after eight years of Bush and a full year of Obama.
President Trump told his supporters that crime would drop if his policy toward the southern border was followed. With the exception of hundreds of miles of potentially kickback-laden wall being constructed, the most firmly restrictive aspects of his policy have been enacted and they haven’t done anything to diminish crime.
This is a promise broken.