You Can't Always Get What You Want

By Linda Chavez

January 25, 2019 5 min read

Donald Trump's new slogan — "Build a wall and crime will fall" — may excite Ann Coulter, but it reveals the desperation of a man who is losing even his base. Facts never get in the president's way, but crime (like illegal immigration) has been falling for decades. According to the FBI, which gathers data on crimes reported to the police in some 18,000 jurisdictions nationwide, violent crime was down 49 percent between 1993 and 2017 (the last year for which full data are available). A different measure of violent crime, one based on Bureau of Justice Statistics' surveys of a representative sample of Americans 12 or older, shows that the violent crime rate fell by 74 percent during that same period.

Would keeping out undocumented immigrants eliminate crime further? Maybe, but it's not nearly so straightforward as it might seem. By definition, if one extra crime is committed by a person who shouldn't be in the country, preventing that person from coming would eliminate that one crime. But it wouldn't automatically have a one-for-one effect on the crime rate, which is measured against the population. The numerator of crimes committed would go down, but so would the denominator of population. Because immigrants here illegally commit fewer crimes than the native-born, the denominator could potentially fall more steeply than the numerator. So in communities with very high proportions of undocumented immigrants, eliminating these people would make the crime rates go up. But Trump's goal is not to lower the crime rate. It is to make good on a foolish promise he made as a candidate.

On Thursday, the president found he couldn't even garner all Republican votes to pass his latest iteration of a border wall bill. Neither a Democratic-supported bill with no wall funding but extra money for border security nor the president's plan for a $5.7 billion down payment on his wall passed muster. Meanwhile, the pain of federal workers and contractors whose pay was suspended before Christmas goes unrelieved.

President Trump will not get what he wants. Maybe he ought to listen to the lyrics of one of his favorite rally songs, by The Rolling Stones. "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need." The president needs to get the federal government back open and functioning. He needs to ensure that Coast Guardsmen receive their pay. He needs to get air traffic controllers and TSA workers their paychecks so that their minds are fully on protecting the public. He needs to get food inspectors on the job. He needs FBI agents focused on stopping terrorists and arresting criminals, not consumed with figuring out whether they can make their next mortgage payment.

Trump may want a big, ugly wall on our southern border, but Americans need a government that works. And if Trump has any hope of re-election, he needs that, too. Trump's approval is down into the mid-30s, according to two recent polls by CBS and The Associated Press. Many of Trump's most ardent supporters continue to stick with their man, but those who voted for him more reluctantly are now peeling away. Trump sold voters on the idea that he knew how to make deals. He's proved to be one of the worst presidential deal-makers in recent history.

A handful of Republicans in Congress have been willing to vote against the president on the shutdown (though not all for the same reason), which bodes poorly for Trump but may lead the way to a legislative compromise. Republicans should help save Trump from himself by breaking the stalemate Trump has engineered. If they don't, it won't just be Donald Trump who will be in trouble in 2020; GOP control of the Senate will be, too.

Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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