On Thursday evening Donald Trump gave an acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention that was largely regarded as one of the darkest that has been delivered in recent times. In it, he painted a picture of an America in decline, one that is no longer respected (read “feared”) by other nations, one that is riddled with crime and overrun with undocumented immigrants. Of course, the numbers say that Trump is wrong and on Friday afternoon President Obama called him out on it.
The president’s remarks came during a press conference with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Obama remarked that he was too busy to watch Trump’s speech, but that he read about it in the news. He said that most Americans would not agree with Trump’s assessment of the current situation in the country:
This idea that America is somehow on the verge of collapse, this vision of violence and chaos everywhere, doesn’t really jibe with the experience of most people.
The president is right. Trump played fast and loose with the facts when he claimed that “homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities.” That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. Politifact noted in their fact-check of Trump that there is no national pattern for the increase in murders. There were more homicides in some cities, fewer in others. Trump wants everyone to believe that every American city is becoming less safe, and that is simply not the case. Also, the experts that Politifact talked to say that you shouldn’t look at one year’s worth of data to draw conclusions about crime — you need to look at the information over a period of years. And that information is clear: crime of all types in the United States has been on the decline for over 20 years.
One expert told Politifact that even the recent uptick in crime is not a major concern. Because crime has been so low for so long, criminal justice professor Alan Lizotte says, “a tiny increase becomes a large percent increase.”
President Obama also took on the GOP nominee’s distortion about illegal immigration. Trump said that so far in 2016, there have been more immigrants who have entered the country illegally than in all of 2015. In their fact-check of Trump’s speech, Vox notes that in order to get to his claim, Trump had to use fiscal year statistics, not calendar year numbers. But he doesn’t say that. Fiscal 2016 started in October, adding three months to the numbers Trump used to again suggest that immigrants are pouring over an open border.
And again, as with the crime numbers, one (or in this case, one-half) year’s worth of data does not establish a trend. The president pointed out, again accurately, that the rate of illegal immigration into the U.S. is currently “lower by two-thirds” than during the Reagan administration. In 2015, even the right-wing Washington Times acknowledged that the rate of illegal immigration is lower now than it was during the presidency of George W. Bush. They also say that over President Obama’s time in the White House, the number of illegal immigrants in the country has remained relatively constant, blowing a hole in Trump’s claim that there is a “flood” of undocumented immigrants crossing the border.
Trump’s comments may have played well in the room, but it’s questionable how they will play to the general electorate. Gallup has consistently found that crime and immigration are not among the top concerns of Americans. In their latest poll on the topic of what people believe is the country’s biggest problem, Gallup found only seven percent who believe it is immigration and only three percent who say their biggest concern is crime.
Here is what President Obama had to say, along with analysis from CNN that supports the president’s statements:
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