Mr. Trump’s fab­ri­cated alarmism

Amer­i­cans should see through the pres­i­dent’s con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to man­u­fac­ture a sense of cri­sis.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

THE UNITED STATES of Amer­ica is in a “mess.” As “car­nage” in Chicago mounts, the mur­der rate na­tion­ally has risen to “the high­est it’s been in 45 years.” Amer­i­can courts are not fair ar­biters of the law, but “po­lit­i­cal.” On top of that, our armed forces are “bogged down in con­flict all over the place.” China and Ja­pan de­value their cur­ren­cies and “we sit there like a bunch of dum­mies.” We are even be­ing “taken ad­van­tage of” in trade by the mid­dle-in­come na­tion on our south­ern bor­der, Mex­ico.

This grim as­sess­ment comes not from the pro­pa­ganda of some hos­tile for­eign state, bent on sow­ing un­rest and dele­git­imiz­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment re­gard­less of the facts. Rather, what you have just read are ex­cerpts from roughly the last week’s worth of tweets and other pub­lic state­ments by the pres­i­dent of the United States. Like many can­di­dates be­fore him, Don­ald Trump painted a dire pic­ture of the sta­tus quo when he was try­ing to get elected pres­i­dent; to an as­ton­ish­ing de­gree, though, his bad-mouthing has con­tin­ued long af­ter he has achieved that goal. To what end?

Cer­tainly Mr. Trump is not de­liv­er­ing painful but nec­es­sary truth. A coun­try en­joy­ing nearly full em­ploy­ment with low in­fla­tion, and with stock mar­ket in­dexes at all-time highs, can­not fairly be de­scribed as a “mess.” Chicago’s surge in homi­cide last year was in­deed hor­rific, but the over­all homi­cide rate in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000, sub­stan­tially be­low what it was in 1972. (The in­crease over 2014 was the largest one-year uptick in 45 years, as per­haps Mr. Trump meant to say.) U.S. troops re­main in such con­flict zones as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, but they have pro­gressed against the Is­lamic State in the lat­ter coun­try; to de­scribe their lim­ited role else­where as “bogged down” is an ex­ag­ger­a­tion — a strangely de­mor­al­ized one com­ing from their own com­man­der in chief.

As for in­ter­na­tional eco­nom­ics, things are more com­plex than Mr. Trump would have it in that area, too. China ac­tu­ally al­lowed its cur­rency to ap­pre­ci­ate 30 per­cent against the U.S. dol­lar be­tween 2010 and Au­gust 2016. Yes, the 2015 U.S. trade deficit with Mex­ico was $58.4 bil­lion, but that in­cludes $12.5 bil­lion worth of crude oil.

Harp­ing on the tragic sta­tus quo ante is, to be sure, standard for new pres­i­dents, be­cause it helps them buy time, po­lit­i­cally, for their own new poli­cies to work won­ders. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, how­ever, veers into out­right alarmism, un­qual­i­fied by a rea­son­able view of the facts. His words, in short, seem more likely to fos­ter des­per­a­tion than de­ter­mi­na­tion, and rad­i­cal­ism rather than hope. His­tory shows that when pop­u­laces suc­cumb to such moods they are more likely to fol­low “strong” lead­ers, and the sim­plis­tic, force­ful so­lu­tions they of­fer to com­pli­cated prob­lems. As Mr. Trump con­tin­ues his ef­forts to man­u­fac­ture a sense of cri­sis, Amer­i­cans would do well to re­mem­ber that.

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