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Through Exaggerated Statements, Trump Looks To Justify His Policies

Feb 17, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

At his White House news conference this week, President Trump painted a grim picture of the challenges facing the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess.

MCEVERS: Trump talks a lot about rampant crime, terrorists, even illegal voters trying to subvert the democratic process. NPR's Scott Horsley reports objective evidence says the president is exaggerating those threats.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Remember the president's inaugural address four weeks ago, his ominous description of American carnage? Often what's being massacred are the facts. For example, here's the president last week speaking to a group of county sheriffs.

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TRUMP: The murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years, right?

HORSLEY: Wrong. The murder rate did jump last year, but it's still only about half what it was in 1980, and much of the increase was driven by a localized spike in Chicago. Inimai Chettiar, who monitors crime rates at the Brennan Center for Justice, says the overall crime rate today remains near all-time lows.

INIMAI CHETTIAR: Right now people are safer than they would have been at any point in recent history.

HORSLEY: Fear of crime can be a boon though for the president's law and order platform. Chettiar our worries Trump may be overstating the criminal threat to justify stiffer prison sentences and get tough policies like stop-and-frisk.

CHETTIAR: I think the danger is scaring people into believing that crime is at higher levels than it actually is and looking for policies to solve a potential problem that actually isn't real.

HORSLEY: Political scientists say fear is closely linked to conservative political views. Trump has played off fear of terrorism to build support for his travel ban on refugees and visitors from seven largely Muslim countries.

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TRUMP: We need strong programs so that people that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in, not people that want to destroy us and destroy our country.

(CHEERING)

HORSLEY: David Sterman tracks terrorist attacks for the International Security Program at the New America think tank. He says in the 16 years since 9/11, 94 people have been killed in the U.S. by what Trump would describe as radical Islamic terrorists. Each of those deaths is a tragedy, but more than six times as many Americans have been killed by lightning strikes.

DAVID STERMAN: There are certainly reasons to suggest that perhaps we should not be as fearful of terrorist attacks given that they're not an existential threat.

HORSLEY: What's more, Sterman says of the 12 terrorists behind those attacks, seven were born in the United States, and none of the other five came from the countries targeted by Trump's travel ban.

STERMAN: Focusing on preventing foreign infiltration ignores radicalization challenges we have inside the U.S. already.

HORSLEY: Trump has also bent the facts surrounding his own election, arguing he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal ballots and that he would have carried New Hampshire had it not been for thousands of Hillary Clinton supporters illegally bussed in from Massachusetts. His policy adviser Stephen Miller repeated that latter claim on ABC's "This Week."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

STEPHEN MILLER: Bussing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who's worked in New Hampshire politics. It's very real. It's very serious.

HORSLEY: Nonsense, says Fergus Cullen, a former Republican Party chairman of New Hampshire. He's offered a thousand-dollar reward for any evidence of bussed in voter fraud. So far, no one has claimed it.

FERGUS CULLEN: The idea there's some kind of vast conspiracy to funnel voters from Massachusetts to New Hampshire is completely made up, completely delusional.

HORSLEY: Despite scant evidence though, Republicans like Kansas secretary of state and Trump adviser Kris Kobach have used claims of voter fraud to justify strict voter ID measures. That worries Ellen Weintraub, a George W. Bush appointee on the Federal Election Commission.

ELLEN WEINTRAUB: The concern is that allegations of voter fraud that may or may not have back up will be used to enact more stringent voter restrictions that will interfere with bonafide, legitimate American citizens exercising their right to vote.

HORSLEY: Weintraub sums up her argument saying sound policy should be based on facts, not fear. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.