There are a number of remarkable assertions there, perhaps none more so than the comparison to Afghanistan. When it comes to killings, though, it’s not as big a stretch as it seems — in part because Afghanistan is safer than you might assume.
Trump’s point about Chicago propping up the national homicide numbers is subjective. Chicago has for more than 30 years been responsible for between 2.6 and 4.4 percent of the country’s homicides, according to FBI data, despite making up 1 percent of the population or less over that time.
Excluding the murders in Chicago from the national total in 2018 would mean that the national total last year was 15,651, instead of 16,214. But the number of murders in Chicago actually declined from 2017 to 2018, meaning that the national drop was larger when you include Chicago (down 6.2 percent) than if you don’t (down 5.9 percent).
Anyway, Chicago is part of the United States, so excluding it doesn’t make much sense — even if it’s politically more useful for you to pretend it’s not part of your portfolio.
Chicago’s homicide rate is (and long has been) substantially higher than the country’s. This is for the same reason that Chicago has more murders than its population would suggest: It’s a city. Cities have more people who are near other people and therefore tend to have more person-on-person crimes like murder.
How does Afghanistan compare? U.N. data suggests it compares pretty well. The rate of homicides in Afghanistan is much closer to the national rate in the United States than it is to Chicago’s. In fact, about a decade ago, the homicide rate in Afghanistan was lower than that of the United States. (The dotted line on the graph below indicates missing data.)
That’s homicides, though, not deaths from armed conflict. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan tracks those deaths as well. It’s a complex distinction, and it’s not clear that one group is entirely distinct from the other. Combining the two figures, though, gives us a closer comparison between Afghanistan and Chicago.
This is to a large extent beside the point. Trump presumably used Afghanistan as a data point because it is somewhere that Americans understand conceptually as dangerous, a place rife with war and terrorism. According to the U.N. data, though, there’s a better comparison much closer to home: Mexico. Its homicide rate in 2017 was 24.8 deaths per 100,000 residents, just over Chicago’s figure for that year (which has since declined).
There are 18 countries that had higher murder rates than Chicago in 2017, according to the U.N. data. But that’s not a fair comparison. Many other countries might have cities where violence is concentrated, just as it’s concentrated in Chicago. Chicago has a population density that’s 100 times Afghanistan’s, which certainly plays a role in these figures.
None of this is to say that the number of murders in Chicago isn’t alarming or something to be addressed. It is, instead, to say that comparisons to Afghanistan are perhaps more revealing about how we think of Afghanistan than they are about Chicago.