A Grain of Saul: 5 scary lies you’ve heard during this election
If there is one thing the 2016 election has been full of, it’s fear.
It seems that every time Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton open their mouths, they are injecting fear into people in order to change a vote. Oftentimes, each candidate — and their spokespeople or supporters — harp so much on some fearful idea that it loses all semblance of truth, a claim so tantalizing and headline-grabbing that the facts are left miles behind.
During this election, I can almost guarantee you have come to believe something that is simply false, or only halfway true. Distorting the truth and creating an environment of fear can be a tactic used in elections to earn more votes.
But to help you alleviate some of those fears, I am going to break down a few of the biggest fear-mongering lies that have been spread during this election, and explain exactly why they aren’t true.
The central point of this lie is that, under President Obama, undocumented immigrants commit crimes in this country, and do not face deportation, punishment, or any kind or exile; instead, they continue to roam free and able to wreak havoc on the communities in which they reside. This lie was started with Donald Trump’s now infamous line that Mexico is sending us criminals and rapists.
Now, let’s deconstruct this. While it’s true immigrant crime is real, and illegal immigrants who commit crimes sometimes are not deported, we must first note that an immigrant, legal or illegal, is less likely to be a criminal than a native-born American.
It’s also important to note that President Obama has deported more than 2.5 million people since his presidency began in 2009. For context, at the pace he is going, he will have deported more people than the 19 presidents that preceded him (from 1892–2000) combined. In other words, Obama is deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants a year.
But while Obama has deported 2.5 million people, it’s also true that in 2014 alone 193 illegal immigrants with homicide convictions were released into communities without deportation; as were another 426 convicted of sexual assault. These men and women did the time for their crime, but under immigration laws should be kicked out upon release and for various reasons, they were not. Though contextually small numbers compared to 2.5 million, those are not insignificant to the communities who have to live with these criminals. In other words, the problem of immigrant crime does exist, it’s being addressed with unprecedented deportations, and it probably isn’t nearly as bad as people think.
The sick irony, though, is that if immigration programs were built to support new immigrants, even the undocumented ones, we’d be a lot less likely to see any issues of immigrant crime.
2. Our military is weak, we’re losing to ISIS, and they’re coming for us.
Both candidates in this election have been critical of our war against ISIS and our presence in the Middle East. One candidate claims the military is weak and we are losing badly, another says mistakes have been made and we aren’t using the right approach.
Here’s the truth: Our military is still our country’s greatest strength, and will remain that way for years to come. Even with a small, evasive and unpredictable enemy like ISIS, our military finds a way to succeed. Though the extremist group has not be extinguished, they have lost nearly every city they gained control of in their early years. Their ranks are splitting rapidly and their strategy is once again devolving into suicide bombings and acts of martyrdom.
There’s also the issue of Syrian and Iraqi immigrants: A myth that has been repeated ad nauseum in this election is that we have no vetting system for refugees and asylum seekers from these counties.
Here are the facts: Slightly over 50 percent of refugees seeking asylum from a country like Syria get into the United States. The vetting process involves several government agencies and typically takes 18 to 24 months. Only about 2 percent of Syrian refugees are single men of “combat age,” and close to half are children. All potential refugees are subject to an eight week, in person interview conducted by trained Department of Homeland Security officials whose sole job is to vet refugees from places like Iraq and Syria.
Since September 11, 2001, America has resettled 784,000 refugees. Three have been convicted of planning terrorist activities: Two of those plans were for acts overseas in Iraq, and one was described as “barely credible” by Migration Policy Institute official Kathleen Newland.
If you listen to Donald Trump’s speeches, there is a picture painted of American cities burning, and murderers and violent criminals running amok. Perhaps as a result of such rhetoric, 53 percent of Americans reported being concerned “a great deal” with crime and violence, according to an April 2016 Gallup poll.
However, the data shows murder rate and violent crime rates have been steadily declining since the 1990s, and even in major cities the trend is generally moving in the right direction. Still, politicians will try to mislead us with fear in order to make us feel less safe, and get more people to vote for someone they think would bring “law and order.”
A good example of this can be seen by how Trump noted rising crime rates in 2015 for some major cities in America. Take Dallas, for example, where violent crime is rose 23 percent according to preliminary reports and the city saw a very public execution of five police officers just a few weeks ago.
For anyone in the “crime is trending downward” department, this is a tough theme to wrestle with. But it actually just comes down to context: In 2015, there was a 17 percent increase in murders in Dallas from 2014. But the Dallas Morning News had already reported that, except they included the fact that the 2014’s number of murders — 116 — was a historic low. And the murder rate for 2015, the one that Trump noted as being a 17 percent increase, was the city’s fourth lowest since 1930. That’s why long-term trends are far more important and valued to criminologists and lawmakers.
So yes, murder rate in Dallas went up between 2014 and 2015, but the long-term trend, which is far more important, shows a much more optimistic outlook. And guess what? That encouraging downward trend is true for almost every city in America.
4. Gun violence is coming for you.
While it’s usually liberals you’ll hear who praising Obama’s administration for reducing violent crime, this reality also shoots another one of their own talking points in the foot: that more guns will mean more crime.
You see, over the same period that crime, gun violence, and homicides have decreased, the number of guns in America has steadily grown. In fact, gun ownership has skyrocketed in the United States over the last few years.
So, if you’re worried about being shot while in a public place because there are so many guns in America, here a few things to consider: More than 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides. Accidental shootings have also been on a steep downturn (despite increased gun ownership) and according to 2010 Center for Disease Control data, only 600 people were killed in accidental shootings (over 12,000 die every year by simply falling down).
While U.S. homicide rates are higher than average (we rank 4th out of 32 industrialized countries in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), Americans sometimes believe our gun violence problem is far worse than it is. Once again, we see that the data shows things are getting better, and your chances of being a victim are still remarkably low.
(It seems worth noting that there is also a third option: perhaps Donald Trump’s cherry-picked data on some major American cities increase in gun violence is correlated with an uptick in gun ownership. Maybe the data he’s using isn’t an outlier of the overall trend, but the beginning of a new trend, one that shows an increase in violence that also correlates with the increase in gun ownership).
Immigrant crime, violent crime, military presence and guns have been big topics for every election for the last 20 years. But this year, two other talking points have entered the realm of absurdity and fear: voter fraud and nuclear weapons.
Donald Trump claims the only way he’ll lose Pennsylvania is if there is cheating in the election booth.
Hillary Clinton warns that during a Donald Trump presidency, we’ll have to worry about an ill-tempered man with a finger “on the button” of nuclear weapons. She also suggested he’s floated the idea of using nukes.
In both cases, the candidates are reaching.
For one, voter fraud is a repeatedly disproven myth — even conspiracy — of an issue. FoxNews host Sean Hannity recently did his best to stoke the fire Trump started by suggesting a Philadelphia Inquirer report showing Mitt Romney didn’t earn a single vote in 59 different precincts was evidence of fraud.
In response to this claim, which he made on national television, Philadelphia elections official Ryan Godfrey went off on Twitter to explain how absurd and unlikely voter fraud is, especially in Philadelphia. You can read his explanation here, but perhaps the most important note was there was a part of that same report that Romney didn’t mention: After the election, The Philadelphia Inquirercouldn’t find a single person who cast a vote for Romney. It seems like the most likely scenario is that Romney was just not a good candidate, especially not in Philadelphia against Obama.
Just as voter fraud is a long-shot, conspiracy ridden idea about how Trump would be denied the presidency, so too are fears that Trump would launch a nuclear war if he became president.
When a Clinton ad suggested that Trump would use nuclear weapons on our European allies, Politifact rated the claim “mostly false.” What Trump really said was “I’d be the last one to use the nuclear weapons,” but that he’s “not taking any cards off the table.” That comment, as frightening as it is, is in line with current U.S. policy.
After all, nuclear weapons essentially operate under the “deterrent theory,” or the idea that because the United States established nuclear power we are safer against threats. Simply the fact that we could or would use them is what prevents other countries from engaging us in war; Trump’s comments, that he would never take nuclear weapons off the table, is keeping in line with this military strategy. He’s just doing it in a more brazen way than your typical presidential candidate.
If you take a step back and look at all these claims, there is a general theme: an emphasis on the worst in everything. In each of these five big election lies, all based in the fear of the electorate, there is some kind of reality anchoring the lie. Immigrants commit crime; that is a fact. The lie is that most or all immigrants are criminals, that they are not being punished, that it’s a problem not being addressed.
Similarly, the lie that Donald Trump would use nuclear weapons is anchored by the truth that he said he wouldn’t; the context that this is in line with American policy since we’ve had nuclear weapons is the context that makes this truth much less frightening.
As you continue following this election, do your best to spot these fearful lies and avoid them. If the “state of things” is any indication, they’re a toxic and contagious thing to encounter.
By A Plus’ Isaac Saul. Saul is a reporter and columnist at A Plus. You can follow him on Twitter here. Catch his “Grain of Saul” columns on A Plus every Tuesday and Live on Facebook Fridays at 11 a.m. EST