CLEVELAND—Here is a line from Donald Trump’s speech to the nation, delivered Thursday at the Republican National Convention. It comes early in the speech, part of his broad case that the United States is soaked in blood and rife with chaos.
“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 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”
At best, this is a half-truth. The federal government isn’t responsible for local crime prevention, but even if it were, the national homicide rate is at a 40-year low, according to the FBI. Homicides have increased in the nation’s largest cities but from low baselines unseen since the 1960s. There are still areas of high violent crime, but overall, Americans are safer now than they’ve been in a generation.
It’s not clear Donald Trump knows that. But it’s obvious he doesn’t care. The point is not to give the public an accurate sense of its safety. The point is to paint a picture of disorder and violence, to scare Americans into flocking under Trump’s banner. And to that end, he has crafted a demagogic speech of lies, misrepresentations, and plain, unadulterated bullshit.
Consider this, another “fact” from Trump’s address: “Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
This is the first of Trump’s dubious assertions of immigrant crime. And it’s nonsense, a “fact” without provenance beyond the nativist and white supremacist websites that form the fetid swamps of the internet.
The truth is that unauthorized immigrants are far less crime-prone than their native-born counterparts. According to one analysis of 2010 Census data, just 1.6 percent of immigrant males ages 18 to 39 were incarcerated, compared with 3.3 percent of native-born males. According to a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, 4 out of 5 arrests for drug smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border involved American citizens. There is no credible analysis that shows a meaningful connection between unauthorized immigrants and violent crime or otherwise. And that’s before we get to the most important fact of the immigration debate: Barack Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president before him.
Or how about this assertion? “The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment than, frankly, I have ever seen and anybody in this room has ever watched or seen.”
It’s ludicrous. As I’ve written, there’s no reading of President Obama’s rhetoric on race and racism—from shootings by police, like those in Ferguson and elsewhere, to shootings of police, in Dallas and Baton Rouge—to support the claim that he’s “dividing” by race and color. And it’s not borne out by the numbers. Obama’s approval rating stands over 50 percent. He has overwhelming support from black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. A substantial minority of whites also back him. If there’s a figure in American life who is dividing the country by race and color, it is Donald Trump, who crashed onto the national scene with a campaign of breathtaking bigotry against immigrants and Muslims, who has broadcast racist messages and deployed anti-Semitic propaganda.
The whole speech was a trash heap of falsehoods. At one point, Trump claimed that Obama had almost doubled the national debt. It actually increased from $11.1 trillion to $19.2 trillion. He described an America of record unemployment and disadvantage. Even granting the decline in labor force participation, there are more Americans working now than at any point in the past 10 years, with two years of the strongest private sector job growth since the 1990s. He attacked the administration’s Iran deal for giving the nation “$150 billion” (false). He accused Obama and Hillary Clinton of opening the United States to “massive refugee flows” (false) and suggested there’s no screening of refugees (also false).
The most egregious part of Trump’s speech deals with trade. It’s where he sells a simplistic story and makes outlandish, unrealistic promises to renege on and renegotiate America’s trade deals. As the Economic Policy Institute explained to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post—after Trump cited EPI’s work on manufacturing—Trump on trade is “is a scam that seems to be offering a path for workers but actually just offers mostly empty boxes on trade and steers the discussion back toward the traditional corporate agenda.”
Scam. This gets to the essential truth of Trump’s speech. The world as described by Trump doesn’t exist. The Trump as described by Trump doesn’t exist. As a businessman, Donald Trump’s career is defined by failure, fraud, and mismanagement. He has little knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs and shows little interest in the basic work of running a campaign, much less serving as president. Remove family members and employees from the mix, and there’s no one in Trump’s orbit—not ghostwriters, not business associates, not former contractors—who will attest to any of the qualities he claimed onstage tonight. The prototypical Trump story isn’t the success of some municipal project; it is theft: from small businesses, from ordinary investors, from desperate students.
Over the past year, Trump has harnessed and deployed bigotry and hate for political gain. He has shown himself to be erratic, intemperate, and dangerously ignorant of the world around him. Despite this, the Republican Party has elevated him with its highest honor and placed him and his authoritarian impulses within reach of the White House.
Speaker after speaker at the RNC has praised Donald Trump as “not a politician.” They are right. He is not a politician. He is a threat. And we’ll all pay the price if he succeeds.