Dear 100 Hour Board,
President Trump recently tweeted "My Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln. Passed Opportunity Zones with @SenatorTimScott, guaranteed funding for HBCU’s, School Choice, passed Criminal Justice Reform, lowest Black unemployment, poverty, and crime rates in history…"
What are the facts behind his statement? What has he done, if anything, to help the Black community?
- Tired of Feeling Like I'm Writing a Research Paper Just to Understand Current "News"
He has done nothing but harm, and trying to find any sliver of something else is a waste of everybody's time and disrespectful to black people.
One could maybe argue that he has done more by simply being so terrible. He's so bad that there is increased attention on inequality, and the more attention there is on it, the more dumb stuff he says and does, which helps amplify that attention. So thank you, Donald Trump. Thanks for being a completely unwitting American hero by being so entirely morally bankrupt.
Since when has he ever tweeted facts? And given that tens of millions of Americans are on unemployment right now, he's very wrong. He gets his statistics from people who tell him what he wants to hear, not what's really going on. Even if he knew the truth, he'd still tweet lies.
So there are four main questions in this regard:
- Are his claims about specific laws and statistics true?
- What is the President's role in the passing of laws or the changing of things such as employment rate, poverty, etc.?
- Do these changes represent progress?
- How does any progress made compared to progress made under different administrations?
I don't have time to compare Donald Trump to every President since Lincoln, but I would love to really examine the relationship between questions 1-3.First I'll start with the laws being passed, and then I'll move onto the poverty, crime, and unemployment stats. Factual claims are easy, but progress and credit are a lot harder.
Specific Claims about Laws
So after doing some checking, Opportunity Zone laws (source), and School Choice laws (source) have been passed in Trump's presidency. I'm assuming when he talks about criminal justice reform he is referring to the First Step Act which aims to reduce federal prison sentences, which was passed during his Presidency (source). These parts are factually true.
The question is what was the President's role in these laws? The laws passed were all expansions of previous programs, and were drafted by bipartisan committees. The Opportunity Zone and First Step laws specifically were largely bipartisan efforts. Therefore, it's hard to tell without a lot more information than I have what role the president had in these laws other than signing them. Just because he signed them doesn't mean that President Trump gets credit for the work of researchers, political advocacy groups, and the Legislative Branch of our government. Presidents can have influence in these areas, but it doesn't seem to me personally that he can take much credit.
Furthermore, these laws aren't without flaws. The School Choice movement largely ignores the systemic inequality of school resources based on district boundaries (many of which are specifically designed to keep tax money out of poor areas or areas with high concentrations of specific ethnic groups. The American Civil Liberties Union has issues with the First Step Act because the algorithm it uses to determine sentence reduction heavily weighs previous criminal history (source). This is significant because it has been shown that black people are more likely to be convicted, and are given longer sentences than white people who committed the same crime (source).
And additionally, we can't really say laws passed under another administration would have been better or worse. This is where we have to pay more attention. For example, the President probably isn't encouraging progress in criminal justice reform by advocating for the National Guard to shoot protesters, or by ordering the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters so he could get a picture in front of a church. Although, maybe his blatant racism is firing up protesters even more, thus exposing issues with police brutality and systemic racism even more. Maybe he will ironically move America forward by being so awful and backwards.
Claims about Unemployment, Crime, and Poverty
Time to look at 3 graphs. The first is unemployment between 2000-Now. This is the only graph I have racial data for:
The graph here has 4 main parts, a general stagnation between 2000-2008, a huge spike in unemployment in 2008, a long decrease in unemployment between 2010-April of this year, and a huge spike in May. What's going on here? Well, the two huge spikes are collectively the housing market & banking system crash of 2008 and the COVID-19 epidemic. The two parts of the graph that are part of the Trump administration are a decrease in unemployment down to record levels, and the spike due to coronavirus. Is Trump responsible for the decrease in unemployment? Maybe. Perhaps his trade policies have helped. I don't know enough to say. It's hard to give him too much credit when unemployment had been decreasing at a steady rate an entire 6 years before his administration. Perhaps it would have leveled off under Hilary, but I don't think Trump can claim full credit. However, the Trump Administration response to COVID-19 has seemed pretty bad. We cannot blame the president for the pandemic occurring, we could potentially assign some credit/blame for how he handled it. I think this will be a question we might be able to answer in 1-2 years when we compare the US to other countries post pandemic.
The next graph is violent crime rate between 1990-2018. We don't have racial data, but we will assume that the trends will be the same for the Black population, although the overall levels may be different:
The trend is generally downward, nearly leveling off around 2012-ish. I wouldn't say that there has been a significant reduction in violent crimes. It's possible overall crimes have gone down, but several things have become legal during the Trump Administration such as more states legalizing or decriminalizing Marijuana, which has largely been pushed by Democrats. Crime levels are also often connected to poverty and unemployment. Crime levels have changed relatively little despite decreases in unemployment and poverty. So I would say that again, the Trump administration has pretty much just kept with previous trends.
And finally here's the graph for poverty between 1990-2018:
Now, poverty seems to be a bit more volatile than the other two graphs we've studied, but the Y-axis covers a smaller range. The trends seem to follow the shape of the unemployment graph for the years where we have data for both (2000-2018). I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that, like unemployment, the current administration seems to have just been following trends that started during previous administrations. It's hard to tell if poverty would've leveled off under Hilary, or whether it would've dropped further. But I'm going to assume that Trump hasn't had much to do with these changes.
Were his claims about specific laws and statistics correct? They actually were.
Were his claims about his administration receiving credit for changes correct? It's hard to say. They certainly didn't prevent those laws from being passed. We don't know whether or not better versions of those laws would have been passed under another administration or not. Also, it appears that the trends in unemployment, crime, and poverty are results of something other than the current administration. There weren't any inflection points or changes in slope that lead me to personally believe that the current administration was doing anything other than holding course (with the exception of the response to COVID-19 and recent police brutality protests)
Is progress being made? I would say in some areas progress is definitely being made. However, I don't think the President can really claim all the credit. Additionally, even if he is partly responsible for economic advances, that doesn't excuse the violent racism he personifies and advocates.
Hopefully this helps! To me it was really interesting to step back and get a broader view on some of these issues. I feel like I still am not educated enough about politics and economics to know how much credit/blame to assign the President for any changes that have occurred. I do however feel like writing this question helped inform me, and I hope it can help you too.