Unfortunately, perception is often more powerful than reality, particularly when it comes to electoral politics. While the reality in 2010 was that Obama had done a yeoman’s job in getting our financial house in order, the perception was that the recovery wasn’t yet strong enough—and that it was somehow his fault.
Joe Biden learned the lessons of the 2010 midterm cycle well, and that’s likely why he secured a $1.9 trillion stimulus right off the bat before diving headlong into infrastructure negotiations. There would be no sputtering recovery this time, thank you very much.
Republicans, of course, know this, which is why they’ve been glomming onto issues ranging from the ridiculous (Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss, critical race theory) to the sublimely desperate (election “fraud”). That said, they may have finally stumbled onto something, and it scares me a little. It scares me enough, in fact, that I feel like we need to get ahead of it sooner rather than later. As in … now.
After decades of steep, sustained drops in crime (my own theory is that those drops were largely due to a sharp decrease in environmental lead exposure), crime has begun to tick up again. Not all crime, mind you. But murders were up sharply in 2020, and other violent crime increased by about 3%. We’re still in the middle of that wave, and Republicans’ mouths are slavering at the potential political whirlwind they could reap as a result.
Of course, the kind of scaremongering you’ll see in the following tweet is nonsense, but whatever else you want to say about them, Republicans are good at delivering consistent messaging, even when their messages are demonstrable B.S. Few voters will research what criminologists think about changes in crime rates, nor will they seek out the relevant context. They’ll just hear the Ron Johnsons of the world harping on crime and inflation every time they open their lying mouths, and they’ll internalize those messages.
It’s not rocket science. It’s politicking for simpletons, and that’s why they’re so good at it and we’re—far too often—so bad.
Of course, Donald Trump, the febrile reptile brain around which a shambling, semi-ambulatory clown man part eventually grew, has a preternatural instinct for understanding exactly what kind of rancid stew his base will hoover up. So I Andy Dufresne’d my way through the internet tubes, finally alighting on this TFG McNugget from the dark heart of Bizarro World:
For the nontweeters:
“If I were President right now, with COVID raging back, people being shot and killed in record numbers all over our cities, and the Border totally open with criminals and heavily infected COVID people pouring through our Southern Border and into our communities, the Fake News Media would be having an absolute field day. When I left office law enforcement was supported like never before, the Border was strong, safe, and secure (the best ever!) and I got a highly effective vaccine developed in less than 9 months (when it was supposed to take 5 years, or more!). Hopefully, people will NEVER FORGET!”
You can likely spot the numerous lies on your own, though I never tire of pointing out that the first vaccine to gain FDA approval, Pfizer’s mRNA shot, took no research money from the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed and so couldn’t have possibly been “developed” by Trump.
That said, Trump and his fellow Republicans may be able to make hay over the rising crime statistics, which—and this is vitally important to point out—began their sharp increase under his watch.
Sure, I can already hear Republicans and a passel of leftish advocatus diabolis protesting that the “defund the police” movement that gained traction in the wake of George Floyd’s death is the real culprit, so let me disabuse y’all of that right here and now:
It is also important to note the inaccuracy of trying to pin rising homicides on efforts to “defund” the police. In a December 2020 press conference, for example, Gregg Sofer, at the time the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, tried to blame Austin’s rise in homicides on the city’s recent decision to cut police funding. The problem? Homicides had started to rise well before the cuts, in no small part because the budget in question did not go into effect until October 2020, so almost none of the proposed cuts would have occurred until 2021 at the earliest—and most of the 2021 cuts involve simply shifting which agencies are responsible for certain tasks. What’s more, Sofer did not acknowledge that the police department’s budget had risen by nearly 50 percent since 2013, while crime rates remained basically flat.
Crime trends are wild and unpredictable, of course—but what’s eminently foreseeable is politicians’ ability to smell blood in the water and attack, as The New Republic further explains:
It is nearly impossible to understate the chaos of the past year and a half: not just an epochal pandemic that has caused mass death and brought once-in-a-generation economic devastation in its wake, but the fearmongering rhetoric of Donald Trump, the unsettling and still-unresolved insurrection of January 6, and widespread protests of the sort that risk scaring and unnerving white voters. These are conditions that would push much of the public in a more punitive direction even absent any change in crime rates; add in the unprecedented spike in homicides, and demands for severity will grow even stronger, politically speaking.
The most likely explanation for the increase in crime we saw in 2020? Chaos Agent Donald Trump flubbed the pandemic response, and people started to go a bit off the rails. It’s only common sense that a stable society breeds passivity whereas an increasingly chaotic society that a man-child whacks over and over again like a hornet’s nest is bound to experience some unrest—in the form of insurrections, civil disturbance and, yes, violent crime. In other words, this crime wave started under Donald Trump and we need to continually remind people of that.
Of course, I’m not the only one beating this drum. James Carville, the legendary Clintonite political strategist, echoed this sentiment in a May 26 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Democrats are the Anticrime Party.” The article is behind a paywall, and I’d rather climb into Ted Cruz’s windowless white van than give Rupert Murdoch any more money, but the gist of Carville’s argument was captured in a subsequent story in The Hill.
Carville notes that Trump’s administration presided over “one long crime wave” during which Trump “broke laws, obstructed justice and incited violence knowing he wouldn’t be held accountable while in office.” According to Carville, Chaos Agent Trump’s lawless streak also had a corrosive effect on the country. “Corruption became the administration’s oxygen, and Mr. Trump’s stunning display of lawlessness set an example for criminals to crawl out of the shadows and believe they would never be brought to justice.”
Meanwhile, despite Republican efforts in 2016 to scaremonger over small pockets of rising crime across the country (remember Newt Gingrich pooh-poohing low official crime rates under Obama while citing people’s “feelings” on crime?), Carville noted that crime “steadily decreased” from 1993 to 2019 before sharply spiking in Trump’s final year in office.
Even more importantly, Republicans have been the ones intent on actually “defunding” the police.
Carville said “all of this culminated” during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He pointed to that day, and Republicans’ subsequent efforts to defend the violent attack against law enforcement and oppose funds for Capitol Police, to question “who really voted to defund the police?” and “Who did it to cover up the investigation of a host of crimes?”
“Not the Democrats,” Carville answered.
The funding Carville referred to is a $1.9 billion supplemental appropriations bill meant to bolster security at the Capitol following the Jan. 6 riots.
This is the Trump Crime Wave, and we need to start calling it that.
Once again, a Democratic president was handed a giant shit sandwich by his predecessor, but that doesn’t mean we should allow Republicans to make him eat it. Donald Trump is the sandwich artist, and he deserves all the credit.
So let’s not be afraid to shove it down his venal, corrupt throat.
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