Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How Trump's "Alternative Facts" Fuel His Racist Policies for Urban America

by Nomad

Recent remarks from Trump have reopened accusations of his racism. Yet, looking back to his campaign, Trump's racism has always been on full display, particularly when it came to his views on the urban life.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump preferred to paint an ugly portrait of urban life where things were on the verge of collapse and crime was out of control.
In his narrative, things were falling apart in the black community.
Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever. You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street.”

Amid this cloud of counterfeit concern, it is hard not to make out the outline of outright racism. The message was pleasing to some ears, from the mildly-prejudiced and ignorant rural to the full-blown white supremacists. Trump's dog whistle played the same tune: black people live wretched, crime-ridden lives and it was up to white Americans to put things right.. by getting tough. 

After assuming the presidency, Trump began talking about "the terrorism in our cities." He claimed that it would require the need for an aggressive law and order president. Safety would be restored, even if it entailed the full militarization of law enforcement

The problem with that is simple. The president's perception of a nation under siege is not backed up by facts. In short, his view of the urban life is entirely imaginary.

Reality vs. Trump's Alternate Reality 

As usual with the things Trump says- and continues to say- the facts simply do not support his alternate reality. That's especially true when it comes to life in the city. He propagates the image of the urban landscape as a kind of hell on Earth, a dangerous place with every kind of social illness. And this vision is always connected with the black community.

During the campaign, Trump told the audience:
“I would be a president for all of the people — African Americans, the inner cities.You go into the inner cities and you see it's 45 percent poverty, African Americans now 45 percent poverty in the inner cities.”
Trump's statement is not an exaggeration. It's not a misleading remark. That's what political scientists call "a lie." As the Washington Post pointed out, his statement is demonstrably false.
It contradicts federal data, which puts the poverty rate among black residents of metropolitan areas at 26 percent. Though that data includes suburban neighborhoods, Trump's number exceeds the black poverty rate in even the poorest big city in the country. Fewer than 40 percent of black residents in Detroit live below the poverty line, according to census data.
On top of that, it is the rural areas where African American poverty is generally higher. About 37 percent of rural black residents live below the poverty line, according to the federal Economic Research Service.

There's another problem with the portrait Trump painted. As The Nation points out, about 50% of black Americans live in the suburbs or in rural areas, not in the city.
So if there's a problem with inner cities, the source of the problem has little to do with African Americans. In fact, cities are becoming less black and less poor. Home values are on the rise, and faster than any other area.
His claim that there are no jobs is again easy to disprove. True, the unemployment rate in urban areas remains higher than the national average of 4.1 %. But urban unemployment is not the crisis levels that Trump has implied.
The unemployment rate is relatively low in the biggest cities; it’s 5.2 percent in New York, 5.1 percent in Los Angeles, 5.4 percent in Chicago, and 6.5 percent in Washington, DC. Even Detroit, where Trump has promised to bring back jobs, has an unemployment rate of only 6 percent.
In reality, the national rate of unemployment throughout the Reagan years never got any lower than 5.3%  and peaked at 10.8% two years into his presidency.
This was supposed to be the Republican Party's Golden Age.

Check out this graph supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It compares the employment rates between the metro areas and the rural areas.

If Trump wants to eliminate unemployment in the black community, the inner city is clearly not the place to begin.

Dramatic Decline in Crime

Crime in the inner city was an issue that Trump milked during his campaign.  He promoted the law-and-order rhetoric from rally to rally through the Midwest. It was a proven success and had served people like post-Watts riots Ronald Reagan and Rudy Guiliani in the past. When it comes to crime in urban areas, there's something that Trump has purposefully neglected to mention.

Contrary to Trump's assertions, all of the largest cities in the US have seen a dramatic drop in crime. It has happened more quickly than the overall fall in crime that the country has seen over the last two decades.
Despite that, Trump told a very different story to his supporters. With obvious relish, he depicted Chicago- Obama's home turf- as a city gripped by crime. Yet, a year before he announced his candidacy, statistics reported "a rather dramatic decline" in violent crime since 2010. By 2017, homicide joined in the downward trend with a nearly 16 percent drop in the last two years.
One place a lot of people first think of when it comes to urban crime is New York City. Yet, like Chicago, the facts on the ground are very different. Even though you'd never know if you listened to Trump, NYC is actually a success story.  
A recent article in the Gotham Gazette compares the myths to the realities. According to the latest crime data released by the NYPD this month, 2017 was without a doubt the safest year on record in decades, "setting new benchmarks for crime reduction across most major categories."
The total number of major felony crimes fell below 100,000 for the first time ever, no small feat for a city now home to more than 8.5 million residents. The city also set a record for fewest murders in the modern data-tracking era, and fewest since the early 1950s, when the city had far fewer residents, and fewest shooting incidents.
Before we look at how this came about, it's important to note that, experts say, that crime has been falling for decades across the nation and even the entire world. 

Crime rates were much higher during the last quarter of the twentieth century, but subsequently declined significantly, particularly in large cities. 
Experts have lots of interesting theories about why. They include a combination of the aging population (older people commit fewer crimes), lower blood lead levels, improved passive surveillance (more responsible people who can report potential threats, due in part to mobile telephones), improved policing methods, and declining drug use.

And that makes Trump's scare-mongering rhetoric and misrepresentations are actually political artifacts from thirty years ago. 

Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance

That doesn't mean lessons cannot be learned from the New York success story. And regardless of political affiliation, there are few who would dispute this success. The question is: what policies and initiatives actually contributed to it? Predictably, the answer to that varies a great deal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and police commissioner, James O’Neill, are understandably proud of the city's success. They point to reforms of the last few years, with numerous initiatives as a reason for NYC's safer streets.
The neighborhood policing program is rebuilding trust with communities, targeted policing of gangs in trouble spots across the city is nipping crime in the bud, and preventative programs are reducing gun violence, they say. Officers are being re-trained in new policing tactics, especially de-escalation, while also being equipped with improved technology and safety gear. Complaints about police officers are also at new lows, while the number of arrests has plummeted, and a body camera program is being rolled out.
Not being seen to be tough on crime is not politically viable.
Meanwhile, the mayor and police officials still believe that "broken windows policing," with its acute attention to keeping social order and enforcing low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, and its use, however evolved, is still seen as essential.
The "broken windows policing" became popular in the mid-1990s but it was not without controversy. The idea was that the overall appearance and atmosphere of an area can have an indirect effect on the levels of crime.
The logic ran something along these lines: If a broken window is repaired in a short time, it will, according to the theory, discourage more acts of vandalism. Keep the sidewalks clean of litter and the rate of littering will be reduced. Addressing seemingly small problems can keep them from escalating, keeping "respectable" residents from fleeing for the suburbs.  

Some people have seriously questioned the cause and effect aspects of this theory. Are we saying that the problem is the appearance of the neighborhood? Isn't this a very superficial approach? Many have claimed it is avoiding the larger issues involved in urban blight.

However, the main problem was how it was applied. 
In 1992, William J. Bratton became the police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani, Bratton transformed the Broken Windows idea into an aggressive "zero tolerance" policing style. The police were encouraged to clean up the street- and this included equated garbage and people- at the cost to civil liberties. and innocent African Americans were being impacted. Keeping the streets clean inevitably took on the broadest and ugliest interpretation.

nypd stop and frisk

The fear of critics of zero tolerance police policies was always that the presumption of innocence would be lost and that it will impact on civil liberties, human rights and personal freedoms. And that's exactly what has happened.
Without proper guidelines and training the idea of keeping the streets respectable could easily get out of control and racially-charged. Critics complained that it opened the doors to racial profiling and the overuse of "stop and frisk" by NYPD and other police departments around the country.

It also required a "no-questions" support for police by both politicians and by the courts. Under this policy, it was an "either-or" choice. You want protection then you must accept the occasional instances of police brutality against minorities.

In this light, it is easier to see how Trump's law and order rhetoric reflected a racist mentality.

A Half-Century of Race-Baiting

There's no question that Trump has painted a false portrait of life in the city for his base supporters. He has managed to blame the black community for a problem that doesn't actually exist. To make matters even worse, his solutions to the non-existent problems dismisses the hard-won successes of cities like New York.

Fifty years ago, during the tumultuous 1968 presidential race, candidate Richard Nixon was forced to deny that his law-and-order campaign rhetoric and ads depicting the hopelessness of the ghetto was actually race-baiting.
Even though Nixon used the term "city jungle" and "barbaric reality," there was still enough wiggle-room for denial.

Despite the implicit fear-mongering contained in ads like this, few Americans- white or black- would have denied that crime on the city streets was deplorable back then. Minority unemployment was a problem that needed to be resolved. The problem had always been in the manner it was presented to white voters.

The Republican solution was the same- from Nixon to Reagan to Trump- a return to law-and-order, even at the cost of civil liberties.
NPR noted the trend:
Trump's single-handed effort to revive the slogan "law and order" is the key to creating the perception of a new crisis of crime and violence... The racial overtones of the phrase are even harder to deny now than they were in the Nixon years, when white radicals and students were part of the mix. But deniability isn't as important as it used to be..
But Trump has gone much further. He has traded dog-whistles for stark disinformation. Scrubbing the facts, Trump has promoted a more-or-less openly racist agenda through a view of inner-city life.

And now for the punchline. 
Just the other day, Trump tweeted that because of his policies, "black unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!" He did not, of course, name which particular policies. 
And during the State of the Union address, Trump touted his success at reducing black unemployment. 
“African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history,”
The African-American unemployment rate had been on the decline since 2011, long before Trump was in the White House. He lied about the rates during the campaign and now is taking credit for the decline he had nothing to do with. 
Coming from a man who refused to condemn white supremacists, Trump patting himself on the back for a job well done is probably the greatest insult to the black community.