The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Post-election, the GOP obsession with crime and inflation fades

Police block the street to a house where three people were killed and four others wounded in a Jan. 28 shooting in Los Angeles. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)
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In the run-up to the midterms, the two top issues for Republicans — and, in turn, the media — were inflation and crime. We were told inflation was an Achilles’ heel for President Biden and the Democrats. The crime problem was a headache for Democrats — “devastating” even!

But Republicans’ election performance was historically poor. And, now, with the election in the rearview mirror, Republicans aren’t talking much about either issue. They prefer to spend time trying to defund the Internal Revenue Service, criminalize abortion providers, threaten economic meltdown and beat the drum on “scandal” investigations. Instead of working to clamp down on crime, House Republicans want to investigate those prosecuting the Jan. 6, 2021, armed insurrectionists and ride to the rescue of the former president, the target of multiple criminal investigations.

As it turns out, inflation and crime were decreasing when the GOP was hyping both.

Inflation declined for the last six months of 2022 as gas prices returned to pre-Ukraine war levels. (Wages went up in December as prices and consumer spending went down.) Indeed, Republicans care so little about inflation, they passed a bill to roll back funding for the IRS, which would increase the deficit, and another to prevent Biden from taking steps to reduce gas prices (as he did last year).

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Despite being hyped endlessly on right-wing media and featured in innumerable mainstream reports, crime rates fell, according to the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice. Its figures show “the number of homicides in 2022 was 4% lower than counts recorded in 2021, representing 242 fewer murders in the 27 cities that publicly report monthly homicide data.” Although the homicide rate was higher than pre-pandemic levels, homicides are nevertheless at “about half the historical nationwide peaks in 1980 and 1991.”

Other good news: Aggravated assaults are down, as are drug crimes. However, “Robberies (+5.5%), nonresidential burglaries (+11%), larcenies (+8%), and motor vehicle thefts (+21%) all increased from 2021 to 2022. Residential burglaries fell by 2%.”

Quite plainly, the GOP (and media) hysteria surrounding crime does not correspond to reality. The real-world picture is at worst mixed, with violent crimes against people declining and property thefts rising — perhaps a sign of return to more normal work patterns and the end of shutdowns.

The GOP anti-crime rant, part of its decades-long “war on crime” rhetoric, has an insidious racial aspect. “In states as disparate as Wisconsin and New Mexico, ads have labeled a Black candidate as ‘different’ and ‘dangerous’ and darkened a white man’s hands as they portrayed him as a criminal,” Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times reported. He continued, “Appeals to white fears and resentments are an old strategy in American elections, etched into the country’s political consciousness, with ads like George Bush’s ad using the Black convict Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Jesse Helms’s 1990 commercial showing a white man’s hands to denounce his Black opponent’s support for ‘quotas.’ ”

Let’s not forget that racial bias throughout the criminal justice system and larger society itself results in crimes — disproportionately the murder and maiming of young Black people from George Floyd to Ahmaud Arbery to Breonna Taylor to Jacob Blake to Tyre Nichols. The results of racially tinged anti-crime hysteria (including mass incarceration and horrific police violence of the type seen in the video of Nichols) have been devastating to many communities while the policies the rhetoric inspires have not made us safer.

But do not expect facts — either crime statistics, scenes of mass shootings or vivid, heart-wrenching evidence of police brutality disproportionately victimizing Black men — to prompt Republicans to rethink their tactics. For them, crime is an election crutch to gin up their base, instill fear in suburban voters and shout down any talk of racism as unacceptable “wokeism.” (All the while, they pander to the gun lobby and mock police who defended our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.)

While Republicans remain unserious about crime, Democrats should deploy an all-of-the-above and fact-driven approach. The White House and congressional Democrats would be wise to pursue police reform and additional funding for proven, successful crime-fighting measures and serious gun-safety measures.

If Republicans are really concerned about crime, they should sit down to discuss reasonable approaches without injecting more racism and its deadly consequences into the criminal justice system. Alas, as long as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) chairs the House Judiciary Committee, don’t hold your breath.