During his inaugural address on Friday, President Donald Trump painted a bleak picture of an America beset by violent crime, drugs, and lack of education. He presented himself as a savior who will “fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.”
“For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential,” Trump said. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
But as was the case during Trump’s similarly dire Republican National Convention speech, many of the claims he used to paint his picture of “American carnage” were false. In other instances, Trump referred to real problems, but didn’t mention that he has no plan to fix them.
Here are some of the ways in which Trump tried to deceive the American people about the state of their country during his first speech as president.
“Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed… We will bring back our jobs,” Trump said.
But during the Obama years, the economy has actually been adding jobs each month at a steady pace: it added jobs for 75 straight months, the longest streak on record. There were 2,157,000 more jobs added over the last year, and 11,250,000 created over Obama’s presidency.
In his speech, Trump specifically mentioned factories closing and “the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.” The manufacturing sector has lost jobs, to the tune of 286,000 over Obama’s presidency and 3.3 million over the last decade and a half. But layoffs in the sector are happening at the lowest rate in more than a decade. Meanwhile, Trump said nothing about jobs in any other sector, even though services like health care, retail, and restaurants make up more than 80 percent of employment.
“We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor,” Trump said.
Getting people off of welfare and into the workforce used to be a political rallying cry in the early 1990s. But it doesn’t make sense today. In 1996, welfare reform was passed and signed into law, which instated strict work requirements for anyone who wants to partake in the country’s cash assistance program. Meanwhile, the majority of able-bodied, non-elderly poor people work, at least in part because the financial incentives are aligned to make it more beneficial to have a job, not just rely on a benefit check.
“America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay… We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation,” Trump said.
Trump is right that America’s infrastructure is in terrible shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the country a D+ grade on the state of its roads, bridges, waterways, schools, and other critical pieces. It also estimates it would take $3.6 trillion over the next four years to get it to decent working shape.
But while Trump has talked about this problem frequently, the plan his team put forward just before the election would effectively do nothing to solve the most critical problems. Their outline called for giving private investors tax credits to help them fund projects, and those firms would then recoup their costs in profits. That requires any infrastructure project to have a ready source of income for its funders, however — such as tolls or fees — and won’t work for things like railways, schools, or levees.
During his inaugural speech, Trump said the “education system” is “flush with cash,” but schools are failing anyway.
What he didn’t mention, however, is the role of the states in education funding, and how that funding has fallen since the recession. A majority of the $1.15 trillion spent on education for the 2012–2013 school year came from state, local, and private sources, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Ninety-two percent of funds for elementary and secondary schools came from non-federal sources.
Most states provide less funding for schools than they did before the Great Recession, according to a 2016 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In at least 18 states, local government funding fell since 2008, and in at least 27 states, local funding went up but did not make up for past cuts.
During her confirmation hearing earlier this week, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nomination to lead the Education Department, refused to promise that she wouldn’t strip funding from public schools or allow education to be further privatized.
Trump also overlooked that high school graduation rates have been on the rise for the past four years.
Trump noted “the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly reduced “inner cities” to hotbeds of violence. But crime data paints a less bleak picture of life in urban areas.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the number of homicides in the 30 largest cities increased in 2016. But Chicago gun violence specifically accounted for 43 percent of the increase. The number of homicides were down in cities with previously high levels of violent crime, including Washington, D.C., New York City, and Baltimore.
The FBI’s national crime statistics have also shown a decades-long, downward crime trend. The Bureau has yet to release national crime from 2016. While violent crime rose slightly in 2015, it did not exceed the number of crimes committed five and 10 years ago. Property crime was also down.
“The average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years,” the Brennan Center wrote of 2015 crime data. “That does not mean there is not variation across cities. In some cities, murder is up. However, there is not yet sufficient evidence to conclude that these levels will persist in the future or are part of a national trend.”