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There's a reason Trump keeps lying about the U.S. murder rate

Donald Trump's lies about the murder rate are important. The motivation behind the lies is more important.
A police car with lights ablaze responds to a call. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)
A police car with lights ablaze responds to a call.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump routinely told voters that we have "the highest murder rate in the United States in 45 years," but "they don't want to talk about it." In reality, "they" don't talk about it because the observation isn't true.In fact, the more Trump made the claim, the more obvious it became he had no idea what he was talking about. As the Republican was reminded many times, the murder rate is roughly at a 50-year low, not a 45-year high.And yet, as the Washington Post reported, the president just can't help himself. It's almost as if this lie is some kind of nervous tic Trump can't control.

President Trump met Tuesday morning with a group of sheriffs from the National Sheriffs Association, a group that consists of more than 3,000 sheriffs from around the country. And to this sworn group of law enforcement veterans, with reporters taking notes, he again repeated a falsehood about the murder rate in America.Trump told the sheriffs, "the murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years." He blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, then added, "But the murder rate is the highest it's been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years. [...] I'd say that in a speech [during the campaign] and everybody was surprised."

We were surprised because it's not true. In terms of the evidence, Trump has this exactly backwards. The president who boasted the other day about his skills as a leader who calls his own shots, "largely based on an accumulation of data," seems incapable of understanding basic and straightforward crime figures.Kellyanne Conway, asked to explain her boss' repeated lies on the matter, said yesterday, "I don't know who gave him that data."Maybe it was the Frederick Douglass character Trump keeps hearing good things about.All joking aside, the broader point here goes beyond the president's incessant lying about the U.S. murder rate. The larger significance has to do with why he's so fond of this specific falsehood.For Trump, the potency of fear has become more than a campaign tool; it's now a governing mechanism. Note, for example, that the day before he lied about the murder rate, the president also lied about a media conspiracy to hide information from the public about terrorist attacks.The White House has a series of goals, and Trump World has apparently concluded that demagoguery is the way to reach those goals.NBC News' First Read team had a good piece along these lines yesterday: "[I]f you take the White House at its word, what it wants is wall-to-wall coverage for every knife attack and every wounding. Why do they want that? What goal does that accomplish? So the White House wants the public to feel more terrorized? To what end?"The answer, evidently, is the implementation of Trump's priorities. He wants a Muslim ban, so we must be afraid at all times of terrorism. He wants a border wall, so he urges us to fear illegal immigration. He wants expanded new police powers, so he insists we believe his interpretation of crime data, even if it's the opposite of the truth.The Washington Post recently reported, "[S]toking fear -- a strategy that helped get Trump elected -- is emerging as a central part of how he plans to carry out his governing agenda."Apparently, for Trump, if that means brazenly lying in order to make Americans feel terrified of imagined developments, so be it. We've gone from leaders who said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself," to a president who desperately wants us to hide under our beds."If he frightens people, it puts him in the driver's seat. He's in control," historian Robert Dallek told the Post. "These are what I think can be described as demagogic tendencies."