Lately at his MAGA rallies, the current President of the United States has been accusing the opposition party of wanting an increase in crime. Here are a few examples:
“If you vote Democrat, that’s what’s going to happen. They want to erase our gains and plunge our country into a nightmare of gridlock, poverty, chaos and, frankly, crime.”
“The Democrats are the party of crime. And that’s what it is, they’re the party of crime.”
“Democrats are the party of crime. How does that sound? They’re the party of crime.”
“The Democrat Party is radical socialism, Venezuela, and open borders. It’s now called, to me — you’ve never heard this before, The Party of Crime. It’s a Party of Crime, it’s what it is.”
This kind of rhetoric, labeling political enemies or political scapegoats as being criminal, is frighteningly fascist, as can be seen by looking at some past examples:
After six issues devoted to ethnic pride, Neues Volk featured an article on the types of the “Criminal Jew”.
In the 1930s, the Nazis used a similar tactic to stir up anger and hatred toward Jews. Professor Richard Weikart of California State University explained that Nazi leaders used different kinds of communication tools to sell the message that “Jews are criminal by disposition,” as a 1943 Nazi directive to the German press put it. “The Jews are not a nation like other nations but bearers of hereditary criminality,” the order said. Germany, in other words, was out of control, and only Nazi anti-Semitic policies could “restore order.”
To spread these ideas, there were books (like the pamphlet pictured above) and films that portrayed Jews as subhuman. “The Eternal Jew,” released in 1940, depicted Jews as wandering cultural parasites, consumed by sex and money.”
“After 1938, the Jew took on this function, becoming a repository for all the negative qualities and tendencies—individualism, criminality, lack of martial feeling—that had long been used to characterize Southern Italians and that had long formed part of foreigners’ stereotypes of Italians as a whole.”
This kind of rhetoric is also not new to Donald Trump, who opened his campaign for President by labeling immigrants as criminals, then spent the entire general election labeling his opponent as a criminal. Trump undoubtedly sees this fascist tactic of labeling political enemies as criminals to be a successful propaganda tactic he can repeat whenever possible. But, in practice, his accusation that Democrats are the “party of crime” is contradicted by the fact that the policies of the Republican party, and Trump himself, have been shown to have a much greater effect on increases in crime than any policy supported by Democrats.
Since the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, the Republican party has instituted an economic agenda that has consisted of cutting taxes for the wealthy, while keeping wages low by passing anti-union laws like “right-to-work” and refusing to increase the minimum wage. This economic agenda of the Republican party, often termed Trickle Down Economics, has been exuberantly continued by Donald Trump. This agenda has also consistently led to increased income inequality as the wealthy have benefited from tax cuts and corporations have benefited from lower cost labor, while workers have seen wages stagnate for a generation.
Besides leading to a country where millions are being left behind economically, increased income inequality also has the unfortunate consequence of leading to an increase in crime:
In a 2002 study by World Bank economists Pablo Fajnzylber, Daniel Lederman, and Norman Loayza, it was found out that crime rates and inequality are positively correlated within countries and also between countries. The correlation is a causation – inequality induces crime rates.
This finding is parallel with the theory on crime by American economist Gary Becker, who pronounces that an increase in income inequality has a big and robust effect of increasing crime rates. Not only that, but a country’s economic growth (GDP rate) has signiﬁcant impact in lessening incidence of crimes. Since reduction in income inequality gap and a richer economy has an alleviating effect on poverty level, it implies that poverty alleviation has a crime-reducing effect.
The analysis may have been made clearer and simplified. The problem now lies on the two factors being able to produce the desired effects that are poverty alleviation and lesser crime rate. Reality presents the people with shaky economic growth and worsening income inequality.
The U.S., which ranks 3rd among the most income-unequal nations, and the worst in terms of income gap growth, also has the largest percentage of its population in prison among industrialized democratic nations.
The connection is so strong that, according to the World Bank, a simple measure of inequality predicts about half of the variance in murder rates between American states and between countries around the world. When inequality is high and strips large numbers of men of the usual markers of status – like a good job and the ability to support a family – matters of respect and disrespect loom disproportionately.
Inequality predicts homicide rates “better than any other variable”, says Martin Daly, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario and author of Killing the Competition: Economic Inequality and Homicide.
This includes factors like rates of gun ownership (which also rise when inequality does) and cultural traits like placing more emphasis on “honor” (this, too, turns out to be linked with inequality). “About 60 [academic] papers show that a very common result of greater inequality is more violence, usually measured by homicide rates,” says Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level and co-founder of the Equality Trust.
A 2016 London School of Economics study, for instance, found that greater income gaps between neighboring U.S. neighborhoods led to more property crime in the richer neighborhoods. “Income differences create an incentive for those relatively poor to steal from richer households,” the authors explain.
Perhaps surprisingly, the links between inequality and violent crime are even clearer. A 2002 World Bank paper found strong correlations between inequality and rates of violent crime, both within countries and between them. The authors say the relationship appears to be causal, even after controlling for a number of other known determinants of crime. The implication is that high levels of inequality create a permanent underclass forced to compete, sometimes violently, either with itself or with other classes for scarce resources.
This phenomenon is particularly clear in present-day Mexico, according to a 2014 World Bank paper. Because of the proliferation of gangs during the country’s drug war, the costs of crime decreased as criminal knowledge and skills diffused throughout the broader population. The high level of inequality in Mexico (Gini coefficient: 48.2), meanwhile, meant that the expected benefits of crime increased. What you get is a perfect storm of incentives for violent crime.
While Trump is spouting his fascist rhetoric to attempt to label Democrats as the “party of crime”, he is also passing tax cuts for the wealthy, attacking unions, and refusing to raise the minimum wage, leading to even more income inequality and, according to almost every available study, leading to increased crime.
But, that is not all. Another leading cause of crime is our current drug policy. Now, before delving into our current drug policy, lets first rewind back to the 1920s, when the United States passed Prohibition, making it illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages. One of the many unintended consequences was a skyrocketing crime rate:
The growth of the illegal liquor trade under Prohibition made criminals of millions of Americans. As the decade progressed, court rooms and jails overflowed, and the legal system failed to keep up. Many defendants in prohibition cases waited over a year to be brought to trial. As the backlog of cases increased, the judicial system turned to the “plea bargain” to clear hundreds of cases at a time, making a it common practice in American jurisprudence for the first time.
In America now, a similar unintended consequence has occurred from our so-called “war on drugs”, a term that was first popularized by Republican President Richard Nixon. Since Nixon first popularized the term, the ratcheting up of the “war on drugs” has typically been a policy of Republican politicians, from Reagan and “Just Say No” to George H.W. Bush first providing military equipment to local police forces to George W Bush adding to his father’s policy to Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions renewing the militarization of local police forces and instructing federal prosecutors to take the hardest line possible against drug offenders. This “war on drugs”, like with Prohibition, has led to an increase in crime:
Black markets naturally attract criminals, in part because it’s difficult for convicted felons to find a career aboveboard. The black market for drugs offers lucrative opportunities that are especially attractive to those who have already committed violent crimes and are thus unlikely to find legal work.
Black markets also attract violent individuals because the crimes associated with selling drugs are proportionately less costly for those who already have a rap sheet. Legitimate businessmen are unlikely to sell drugs, because if they are caught they could face decades in prison. But for hardened criminals, the primary danger is in being caught, not in one more charge being added to an existing long list.
Additionally, black markets incentivize criminals to protect their secrecy. For many drug sellers, the most effective way to do so is to silence potential leaks. This was the context for Ulbricht’s first alleged hit: He feared that if his victim (an employee of The Silk Road) weren’t silenced, the employee might report Ulbricht’s crimes to the FBI. The difference between serving 10 years for drug trafficking and serving life for murder was a relatively small one compared to the difference between going to prison or remaining free.
The further-reaching reason to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs flows from how the war on drugs drives violent crime, which in turn pushes up incarceration and generates other negative social outcomes. You just can’t move $100 billion worth of illegal product without a lot of assault and homicide. This should not be a hard point to see or make. Criminologists and law enforcement personnel alike acknowledge that the most common examples of “criminogenic trends” that generate increases in murder and other violent crimes are gang- and drug-related homicides.
But there is also another, more subtle connection between the drug war and violence, pinpointed by economists Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi . As they argue, above-average homicide rates will result from low rates of successful investigation and prosecution of homicide cases. If you live in an environment where you know that someone can shoot you with impunity, you are much more likely to be ready to shoot to kill at the first sign of danger. When murder goes unpunished, it begets more murder, partly for purposes of retaliation, partly because people are emboldened by lawlessness, but also as a matter of preemption. Unpunished murder makes everyone (including police) trigger-happy. Such places operate according to the dictum that the best defense is a strong offense.
Major urban centers of the drug trade are just such environments, plagued by low clearance rates for homicide. In Detroit, in the years approaching the city’s bankruptcy, the homicide clearance rate verged on single digits. In Chicago, in 2009, police cleared only 30 percent of homicide cases, many of them without charges. In one Los Angeles Police Department bureau, clearance rates in the 60s mask the low rate of cases ending in arrest and prosecution. And clearance rates are lowest when victims are black and brown, as Jill Leovy explains in her new book, “Ghettoside.” In contrast, in the 1960s, in the United States, the average clearance rate for homicide was above 90 percent, according to NPR.
And like with Prohibition, when “court rooms and jails overflowed, and the legal system failed to keep up”, the same thing has happened with the “war on drugs”:
Why have homicide clearance rates fallen so low in these cities? According to criminologist Charles Wellford, drug-related homicides are harder to investigate, possibly because they are more likely to be stranger-to-stranger incidents and possibly because the drug business generates witness-suppression systems. Additionally, stop-and-frisk tactics have eroded trust in police and further diminished the willingness of witnesses to testify. And, recently, justified anger over police violence has further reduced the capacity of the police to function well in investigating homicides.
Finally, an overloaded judicial system may well put prosecutors in a position where they wish to pursue only open-and-shut cases that will generate plea deals. According to a retired police officer interviewed by NPR, Vernon Geberth , police nowadays have a higher bar to get over in trying to clear a case because prosecutors want only those easier cases.
And what is the No. 1 source of this prosecutorial overload? According to federal judicial caseload statistics, in U.S. district courts in 2013, 32 percent of defendant filings were for drug-related cases, making this the biggest category of filings. State judicial systems, too, have been significantly strained for financial resources and personnel by drug-related casework. Add to this picture the fact that plenty of violent offenders in our nation’s prisons started out as nonviolent drug offenders, and you have a complete picture of just how much the drug war itself has been a generator of violence.
While Trump is spouting his fascist rhetoric to attempt to label Democrats as the “party of crime”, he is also instructing his Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ratchet up prosecution of drug cases, which has the effect of leading to more overloaded courts, strained police resources, and more crime.
But, that is not all. Another leading cause of violent crime has been gun policy. The Republican party used to be in favor of gun regulation. Ronald Reagan pushed the Brady Bill, and George H.W. Bush famously resigned as a lifetime member of the NRA. But since the Presidency of George W. Bush, the Republican party has become increasingly beholden to the gun lobby, with George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress refusing to renew the assault weapons ban. Republicans in Congress then prevented President Barack Obama from passing any gun regulation in the wake of multiple mass shootings, even preventing the expanding of background checks, a policy supported by around 90% of the country. Now, Donald Trump is giving speeches at NRA conventions while in office, and failing to act in the wake of even more mass shootings. Meanwhile, the now irrevocably linked NRA and Republican party have been busy passing laws to allow concealed-carry in several states, which has led to increases in violent crime in those states:
On average, RTC [Right to Carry] states had aggregate violent crime rates around 7 percent higher than the synthetic states five years after RTC law passage. After 10 years, the gap increased to almost 15 percent.
To put the significance of a 15-percent increase in violent crime in perspective, “the average RTC state would have to double its prison population to counteract the RTC-induced increase in violent crime,” the report says.
While Trump is spouting his fascist rhetoric to attempt to label Democrats as the “party of crime”, he is also sucking up the the NRA, an organization that has been pushing states to adopt laws that allow people to carry guns in public, a policy that has consistently resulted in more violent crime.
Let’s pivot from examining the crime inducing policies of the GOP and Donald Trump and instead look at the policies of Democratic politicians that Donald Trump is using to back up his fascist claim that Democrats are the “party of crime”.
In his rally speeches, Trump typically points to immigration and socialism as the nebulous causes of crime he accuses the Democratic party of wanting to increase. First off, the most common policy preference of the Democratic party when it comes to immigration is not an increase in immigration, but instead a reform of the immigration system that will allow children who were brought to the United States as undocumented immigrants to be given a path by which they can gain citizenship, as well as reforms that will result in not more immigrants, but less undocumented immigrants. The first and main effect this policy will have is to lessen the number of immigrants who are undocumented and therefore have to accept lower wages and have less personal and job security. By reducing the number of undocumented workers who have to accept low wages due to their status, this would help increase wages overall, which would help lessen income inequality. As was shown before, increasing income inequality increases crime, and reducing income inequality has the opposite effect: it reduces crime.
In addition, there have been studies that have shown that immigrants in general, including undocumented immigrants, commit less crimes than native-born citizens, completely contradicting Trump’s accusation, and showing it for the bold-faced lie that it is:
But the social-science research on immigration and crime is clear: Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, with immigrants legally in the United States even less likely to do so. A number of studies published in the past several months clearly illustrate the consensus.
The first study, published by the libertarian Cato Institute in February, examines criminal conviction data for 2015 provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It found that native-born residents were much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants in the country legally or illegally.
“As a percentage of their respective populations, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015,” author Alex Nowrasteh writes. “The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate.”
Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looked at whether the soaring increase in illegal immigration over the last three decades caused a commensurate jump in violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
“Increased undocumented immigration since 1990 has not increased violent crime over that same time period,” Light said in a phone interview.
Those findings are published in the current edition of the peer-reviewed journal Criminology.
In a separate study, these same researchers previously looked at nonviolent crime. They found that the dramatic influx of undocumented immigrants, similarly, did not drive up rates of drug and alcohol arrests or the number of drug overdoses and DUI deaths.
While Trump is spouting his fascist rhetoric to attempt to label Democrats as the “party of crime” because they support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, data is showing that immigrants in fact commit less crimes than native-born citizens.
Trump’s other nebulous claim is that Democrats want to bring about socialism that will bring crime. The Democratic party is not calling for the United States to become a socialist state. The Democratic party merely supports policies that help strengthen the social safety net, something which allows people to advance in society due to merit instead of merely means. These policies include things like support for universal health care, public education, infrastructure spending, social security, etc. These policies do not in any way, shape, or form eliminate capitalism. In many ways, they make capitalism stronger, as merit becomes more of a contributing factor for success than means. In addition, a stronger social safety net reduces income inequality, which as we have seen above, would reduce crime.
So, let’s recap: Trump is accusing Democrats of being the “party of crime”. Meanwhile, Trump and the GOP are pushing policies that increase income inequality, which increases crime, increase the “war on drugs”, which increases crime, and increase the number of people carrying guns in public, which increases violent crime. Meanwhile, Democrats are calling for policies that would give a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, who are responsible for less crime than average citizens, and are calling for policies that would reduce income inequality, which would reduce crime.
If one were inclined to ask, one could ask, just which party is really the “party of crime”?
But, we as a country are better than that. Fascism has no place in America. Crime should be discussed with reference to actual policy. Politicians with better policies should be supported. We, as a country should support politicians who want to reduce crime by reducing income inequality. We, as a country should support politicians who want to reduce crime by reforming the “war on drugs”. We, as a country should support politicians who want to reduce violent crime by passing more sensible gun regulation. We, as a country should support politicians who want to reform our immigration system with the knowledge that immigrants are actually less prone to commit crimes than native-born citizens. This is the United States of America, not Nazi Germany nor Fascist Italy. Trump’s divisive rhetoric needs to be thrown in the dustbin of history and never repeated in this great country of ours.