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Elections

Trump Hasn’t Yet Fulfilled His ‘Law and Order’ Vow

A decline of 3.9 percent, or even of 6.8 percent, does not satisfy the hopes raised in at least some of us by Trump’s vow to bring “the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation” to an end “very soon.” Even when he nods in that direction, his attention to the issue seems mostly rhetorical. In short, he got us up on tiptoes and then didn’t kiss us.


- November 7th, 2019
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At National Review, the erstwhile flagship of American conservatism, Jim Geraghty puts out a bulletin called “The Morning Jolt.” On the morning after Tuesday’s off-year elections, the “Jolt” was mostly negative for conservatives. Geraghty noted a few successes: winning the Mississippi governor’s race, improving the Republican Party’s position in the New Jersey legislature, narrowly rejecting racial preferences in Washington state, guarding against any future state income tax in Texas. But he lamented disappointments elsewhere, saying they show “how the GOP traded working-class whites for suburbanites in 2016 and continues to live with the consequences of that trade.”

This brings out the Grammar Nazi in me. The GOP didn’t trade “working-class whites for suburbanites in 2016.” That’s putting it backwards. The GOP traded something it had (suburbanites) for something that had long belonged to the Democrats: working-class whites.

But in truth, Republicans don’t have to choose between those two groups. They just have to keep the promises they made to the country as a whole. Fascination with group identity, after all, is a hallmark of Democrats.

Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, we haven’t done too badly in that regard. America’s economy is booming, incomes are rising, we’re a fossil-fuels powerhouse, we’re holding the line against gun control, and we’re adding originalist judges to the federal bench by the dozens. Even “The Wall” is being built, bit by little bit.

So why is the GOP struggling, and often failing, to hold its own in suburbia?

Let’s look at one point where the party has fallen far short of its promises. Among the vows we haven’t kept is this one: “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end.”

I’ve quoted that passage from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech many times before, and readers who have been following my work at American Greatness may perhaps, at this point, be throwing up their hands and saying: “There he goes again!”

But is there any demographic in this country where people don’t want to see crime and violence come to a sudden end? Only on the extreme Left—a sinister region to which Democratic activists and politicians increasingly are drawn—do criminals have prestige and cops get treated as enemies.

That is not where suburbia lives. No swing voter sees law and order in that way, and an enormous number of the very folks for whom the Left presumes to speak don’t see it that way either.

Look at how the Pew Research Center breaks down how people answer one key question in the law enforcement picture: “Do you favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?”

Its poll, conducted last year, found that supporters outnumbered opponents, 54 percent to 39 percent. Most Americans over 30 years old favored the death penalty, as did majorities of men, whites, Republicans, independents, college graduates, and Christians both Protestant and Catholic. A plurality of women (46-45) favored it, as did Americans under 20 and those with no religious affiliation. (Those last two groups, it should be noted, are especially susceptible to politically correct indoctrination, yet they haven’t gone completely P.C. on this issue.)

Added together, those voters comprise much more than just “working class whites.” Indeed, a great many of them may be observed in their native habitat: Deepest, darkest suburbia.

Only Democrats, blacks, Hispanics, and people with post-graduate degrees came down in opposition to the death penalty, and substantial minorities of those four groups (35, 36, 47, and 42 percent, respectively) were in favor of it.

A recent Gallup poll likewise finds a majority (56 to 41 percent) in favor—and this despite the fact that, in that same poll, Americans by a 2-1 margin don’t believe the death penalty deters murder.

That last finding signifies a lot. Imagine what the margin of support would be if more Americans were aware of the substantial body of evidence suggesting that death does in fact deter! Would people be willing to continue sparing murderers’ lives, knowing that by doing so they very likely are condemning future victims to die at the hands of future murderers?

I’ve written about this issue here and here, citing chapter and verse. In the former of those two pieces, I wrote:

On deterrence, the burden of proof rests not with those who affirm it but with those who deny it. If a reasonable possibility exists that executions actually carried out will deter some murders, then the people put at risk by our failure to enforce the death penalty far outnumber the death row inmates who are the focus of so much concern among capital punishment’s opponents. The ones put at risk are the hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children who will fall victim to criminal violence tomorrow, next year and on into the future.

Make deterrence real, and murder (together with the executions flowing from it) would shrink to a small core of undeterrables. Instead, by refusing to admit the possibility of deterrence, death penalty opponents ensure that the slaughter of innocents will continue unabated, indefinitely.

To be sure, a certain amount of improvement is possible even without the death penalty. The FBI’s crime statistics for 2018, released in September, are encouraging. They showed the rate of violent crime had declined 3.9 percent from the previous year, a reversal of a worrisome upturn that had developed in the last two years of the Obama administration. The murder rate in 2018 fell even further, by 6.8 percent.

Powerline blogger John Hinderaker commented on this under the headline, “Violent Crime Drops, Trump Gets No Credit”:

The FBI’s good news about crime got very little publicity, and I can’t find a single publication that gave the Trump administration any credit for the trend. Why should they, you might ask, since homicide and other violent crimes have been declining since the 1990s?

Because that decline was interrupted by a two-year upward spike in 2015 and 2016, the last two years of the Obama administration. The homicide rate then fell in 2017, and more steeply in 2018.

Hinderaker then speculated on what may account for the spike:

So what happened in 2015 and 2016 to cause the violent crime rate, including the homicide rate, to rise after decades of decline? I can’t think of any explanation other than the Black Lives Matter movement and the relentless attacks on law enforcement that it engendered, which were supported by the Obama administration. But what happened when Donald Trump took over in the White House? The homicide and violent crime rates began to fall again.

Liberal journalists’ bias against conservatives, against Republicans, and especially against Donald Trump is an old story, as is their indifference to crime in general. But that’s not the only reason he’s not getting any credit for the good news on crime.

A decline of 3.9 percent, or even of 6.8 percent, does not satisfy the hopes raised in at least some of us by Trump’s vow to bring “the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation” to an end “very soon.” He has not been making extraordinary efforts to fulfill that extraordinary promise. Even when he nods in that direction, as when he attended a memorial service for slain police officers this year, his attention to the issue seems mostly rhetorical. In short, he got us up on tiptoes and then didn’t kiss us.

“Oh, don’t be a chump!” I can hear someone saying. “Bringing crime ‘to an end’ can never happen in this world. Who could be dumb enough to take that brag seriously?”

But what is so impossible about crushing crime? Consider that, even after the major decline that began in the early 1990s and was only briefly interrupted during Obama’s second term, crime remained and remains far higher than it was in 1960 (which is when the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports assumed their modern form).

The crime rate in 1960 was only 73 percent of what it is today. Violent crime was only 42 percent of today’s rate. Aggravated assault was only 35 percent. Only the murder rate has crept back down to what people in 1960 would recognize as “normal,” and that’s because many more trauma victims are saved by emergency medical care now than were saved back then. Each victim saved in ER reduces a murder to an aggravated assault (which is why that category of crime remains so high).

Further, there’s nothing to say the 1960 crime rates were as low as crime can go. My reading of American history, and of the relevant statistics, suggests it can fall much further.

“But,” says my interlocutor, “what can Trump actually do about crime? Law enforcement is largely a state and local responsibility, and the rules governing law enforcement were handed down long ago.”

Tackling those rules is where Trump comes in. As I detail in these two AG articles, the constraints under which law enforcement labors come not so much from the U.S. Constitution as from the fertile imagination of the U.S. Supreme Court. They are of relatively recent vintage, and they have been deeply harmful to many, many innocent Americans.

Trump is nominating justices to the high court who we may hope will be mindful of this, and that’s good. But incremental improvement among the court’s personnel is not enough. Remember, he promised us crime would be crushed “very soon,”

Job one for the president, then, is to take to the bully pulpit and impress on everyone that we are throwing victims’ lives away by not enforcing the death penalty against murder. Then he should point out, as I argued in AG only last month, that selecting better justices is too slow and uncertain a course to properly amend that dereliction of our duty. To quickly and truly correct the situation, “We the People” must take a direct hand in its correction. That means a constitutional amendment, something only someone of Trump’s stature can bring to the national agenda.

That is the way to garner the votes of working-class whites and keep the suburbs too. As I put it in that October piece I mentioned just now:

Can anyone doubt that achieving a radical reduction in crime would be of tremendous benefit, not only to the country but to the fortunes of the president and his party? It’s a political weapon, lying there in plain sight, waiting for anyone to seize it. Someone needs to get the word through to the boss: “Mr. President, here is a “big stick” with which you can lay waste to the Left. You’ve glanced at it often enough. Now pick it up and use it!

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