Trump’s lies about violent crime: symbolic racism

From Steve Benen, “Trump’s false claims about U.S. murder rate raise questions,” The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, 12/16/16:

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s standard stump speech included a very specific claim about crime in the United States.

Oct. 28, 2016: “You won’t hear this from the media: We have the highest murder rate in this country in 45 years. You don’t hear that from these people. They don’t want to talk about it. The highest murder rate in the United States in 45 years.”…

After other examples from just before the election, Benen continues:

The reason “they” – he never said who “they” are – didn’t want to talk about the murder rate reaching a 45-year high is that the claim is ridiculously untrue. In fact, as the Washington Post explained before the election, Trump actually has the entire story backwards: “Both the rate of homicides and violent crimes are back down to the levels they were 45 years ago.”

That article goes on to give some possible reasons for this particular Trumpian lie:

Before the election: scaring voters. (That fits in with Trump’s claim to be the only one who can save us from a host of ills.)

Since the election (summarizing): Trump is planning to put more people in jail. Or he is “trying to undermine public confidence in data and statistics” (as if that effort needed his help…). Or, once in office he will claim to have lowered the violent crime rate. Or, he believes his own lies.

While we are reflecting, let’s glance at the chart from “Trump’s false claim that the murder rate is the ‘highest it’s been in 45 years’,” Washington Post, 11/3/165:


So the lie is really pretty blatant. But let’s recall: If fear didn’t trump truth, Trump would not be president-elect. He won the Electoral College by fracturing the traditional, and till then growing, Democratic coalition. Now, thanks to Trump’s divisive genius, it’s urban vs. rural, white vs. black, citizens and legal residents vs. undocumented, East and West coasts vs. the middle, even neighbor vs. neighbor and relative vs. relative.

Symbolic racism (not that Trump is always symbolic in his racism) uses code words in place of race-specific terms. In the pre-Civil War era, “servant” meant slave.” In Reagan’s campaign hoax, “welfare queen” meant “black person cheating white people.” In the birther lingo promoted by Trump, “born in Kenya” meant “not one of us, shouldn’t be president.” In today’s dog whistle code, “thugs” means “young black males.”

In the same way, in Trump’s mouth, “violent crime” means “why white people need to be very very afraid of black men” and “why rural people need to repudiate American city-dwellers.” Of course, the underlying deceit is in the assumptions that black urban men commit all the violent crime and that what they commit is directed mainly against white people.

Just as it happens, Trump won the white vote and the rural vote. As the press says: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

If this country is to survive and reject Trumpism, Americans need better political, historical, and media literacy.

N.b. See also Bryce Covert, “Imaginary Inner Cities,” The Nation, 11/7/16, exposing Trump’s lies that black poverty is at 45%, there are no jobs in cities, and violence is rampant. In fact, “The black poverty rate is at its lowest ever” and “Cities have a relatively low unemployment rate,” and “Violent crime rates are their lowest in two decades.” But lies serve Trump; many of his supporters have been convinced that unemployment is up and the stock market down under Obama.

One thought on “Trump’s lies about violent crime: symbolic racism

  1. Pingback: Trump retains “King of Whoppers” award | No Trump, Never Trump

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