Donald Trump traveled to El Paso, Texas, yesterday because the president sees the city as a model for his immigration agenda. He declared in his State of the Union address that the community was one of the nation’s “most dangerous cities,” right up until it got a border wall, at which point the crime rate dramatically improved.
The problem, of course, is that Trump was lying. Violent crime rates in El Paso peaked in the early 1990s, and after Congress approved border fencing for the city in 2006, the rate stayed the same. (In fact, soon after the completion of the fencing, violent crime briefly went up a little.) Even El Paso’s Republican mayor has complained about the president peddling bogus claims about the city.
Last night, Trump told his followers at a campaign rally that his claims are true because … they just are.
“I don’t care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat. They’re full of crap when they say [a border barrier] hasn’t made a big difference.
“I heard the same thing from the fake news They said ‘Oh, crime actually stayed the same.’ It didn’t stay the same. Went way down…. These people, you know you’d think they’d want to get to the bottom of a problem and solve a problem. Not try and pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.”
The Republican added, in apparent reference to El Paso’s crime rate, “They give you all these phony stats. They say it’s the same. It’s not the same.”
It is the same. I have no idea who “they” are, but there’s simply no reason to see the statistics – compiled by law enforcement and reported to the public by the U.S. Department of Justice – as “phony.” If Trump has a credible case to make about crime data released by his own administration, he’s welcome to present one.
But he won’t because this isn’t really a debate over the reliability of statistical data. Rather, this looks an awful lot like a president attempting to control his followers’ perceptions of reality. Trump could try persuasion, but he apparently prefers to declare himself the sole authority for truth.
It was, after all, just last summer when the president told an audience, “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Soon after, Trump declared, “Polls are fake, just like everything else.”
Trump will tell us what’s true and what’s false. If he wants El Paso’s crime rate to have fallen dramatically, then it has, even if it hasn’t.