Trump’s RNC Wants to ‘Make America Safe Again,’ But We’re Safer Than Ever

Tonight’s theme at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland is “Make America Safe Again.” The theme is misleading, because it implies that the United States is somehow less safe today than it was in the past.

The opposite is true: We are living in an era in which Americans are more secure than any time in the past 45 or 50 years, in any number of categories. Violent crime is down. Crime against property is down. Crime committed by immigrants is as low as it has ever been (and it has been generally low). Terrorist incidents are lower than they were 30 and 40 years ago, and the casualties from those incidents are low. Even deaths (of Americans) on the battlefield are rarer today than in earlier wars. Americans have a better chance of drowning in their bathtubs than being killed or injured by a terrorist or criminal.

Why does Donald Trump promote an image of crime and violence that is so at odds with reality? You would have to ask him, but good luck getting an answer based upon facts or similar to the answer he gave to the last questioner or the next.

Let’s look at some figures, expressed in charts.

The topic of police officers killed in the line of duty has been much in the conversation this past week, especially with the murders in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Yet police officers are safer today than at any time in the past 40 years. Writing today in The Freeman, Daniel Bier notes:

Despite several recent high-profile tragedies, police officers are much safer than they used to be. Fatalities, shooting deaths, and felony murders of police are way down.

He posts this chart:
police deaths

How about crime rates in general?

First, crime rates have been rising in Europe while they have been falling in the United States:

crime rates Europe and USA

Crime rates in the United States — both violent and other crimes — have fallen by at least 45 percent since 1990. There are various theories trying to explain why, but the fact is crime is less prevalent today than anytime in the past quarter-century, and perhaps in the past half-century. (Rudy Giuliani touted his own record on reducing crime in New York City tonight in a speech that asserted that we have to “make America safe again,” as if it is less safe. It’s much safer because of Giuliani’s efforts in the 1990s. He should take credit rather than mislead us.)

US crime rates

What about terrorism?

First, the United States has been the target of only a tiny fraction of worldwide terrorist attacks in the past several decades. If you don’t trust me, maybe you’ll trust the Heritage Foundation:

Heritage terrorism usa

Again, as Heritage points out, except for a spike in the late 1980s, terrorist incidents in the United States have been declining for the past 40 years:

Heritage terrorism USA

How about the claim that immigrants are causing mayhem through crime, one of the sub-themes from tonight’s Trumpfest?

The Manhattan Institute’s Jason Riley noted in the Wall Street Journal almost exactly a year ago (“The Mythical Connection between Immigrants and Crime“):

numerous studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated. A new report from the Immigration Policy Center notes that while the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled between 1990 and 2013 to more than 11.2 million, “FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48%—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41%, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.”

A separate IPC paper from 2007 explains that this is not a function of well-behaved high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers. The data show that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants,” according to the report. “This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

If a conservative like Riley is not sufficient, how about the libertarian Cato Institute?

Both the Census-data driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions. There are numerous reasons why immigrant criminality is lower than native criminality. One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law.

Another explanation is that immigrants self-select for those willing to work rather than those willing to commit crimes. According to this “healthy immigrant thesis,” motivated and ambitious foreigners are more likely to immigrate and those folks are less likely to be criminals. This could explain why immigrants are less likely to engage in “anti-social” behaviors than natives despite having lower incomes. It’s also possible that more effective interior immigration enforcement is catching and deporting unlawful immigrants who are more likely to be criminals before they have a chance to be incarcerated.

Whatever you saw on TV from the Quicken Loans Arena tonight, none of it was connected to reality. Trump’s hand-chosen speakers ranted about dangers that are declining, not rising. They completely ignored the obligation to tell the truth and, as Joe Friday would have said, “just the facts.”

My larger point is we shouldn’t be making public policy based on misperceptions, misinformation, and emotion. When Congress and state legislatures make laws to address the latest events – – killings of and by police officers – – they should do so using facts, not tugs on their heartstrings.

As John Stossel has been pointing out since he was still on ABC, people tend to fear the things that are least likely to harm them. (I’d add, they also still buy lottery tickets thinking they can become overnight millionaires.)

Crime reporter Radley Balko said it best in the Washington Post last year:

Fear of crime is a powerful political motivator. This makes it all the more important to point out when pundits attempt to influence a political debate by using specious data to exploit that fear.

Those politicians and D-list celebrities on stage tonight in Cleveland used fear to rile up emotions among the crowd and TV viewers. If they don’t know they were wrong, they were lying. If they were lying, they don’t deserve our attention.