On the claim that Trump’s election unleashed a wave of hate crimes

The idea that liberal elites are disconnected from reality has been a major theme of post-election reflections. Nowhere is this more obvious than in academia, where Trump’s victory resulted in completely hysterical reactions. I think that most of these reactions are not only stupid, but they also show that American liberals inhabit a parallel universe. I don’t know how much of what they say is just virtue signaling and how much they actually believe, which is not to say that virtue signaling can’t produce belief, but in any case they should really stop, because it’s ridiculous. It would take forever to address every nonsensical claim that has been made since Trump’s election, so I’m just going to focus on the seemingly widespread belief that, since Trump won the election, the US is no longer safe for minorities as shown by the wave of hate crimes his victory allegedly unleashed on the country.

Before I do so, let me be clear that I think there are perfectly legitimate reasons to be unhappy about Trump’s victory, especially if you’re a liberal and even if you’re not. For instance, you may think (1) that Trump’s administration is likely to replace Obamacare by a free market alternative and (2) that such a system would be a bad thing. Now, depending on what you mean exactly by a free market alternative, I disagree with (2) and I’m extremely skeptical about (1), but I recognize that reasonable people can disagree about that. What reasonable people can’t disagree about, however, is that Trump’s election does not make the US unsafe for minorities. If you think so, you’re just being irrational, period.

After Trump won the election, almost everyone on Facebook was apparently convinced that buckets of mostly unverified anecdotes, many of which had already been proven to be hoaxes at the time, showed that Trump’s victory had unleashed a wave of hate crimes on the US… This is so incredibly stupid that, as I already noted, there had to be a lot of virtue signaling in those reactions, but still there were clearly many people who really believed that and were completely freaking out because they do. Indeed, even a few months after the election, this view is no doubt still widespread. Some people on campuses around the country even needed safe spaces complete with legos, coloring books and play-doh… Are you fucking kidding me!? You can’t even parody these people anymore.

I would like to remind people of some basic facts, which hopefully will bring them back to reality, although it probably won’t. According to the NCVS, there was 217,640 hate crimes in 2011, representing 1% of total victimizations. The NCVS is a nation-wide survey based on interviews with close to 150,000 individuals, designed to capture the number and characteristics of criminal victimizations in the US, whether they were reported to law enforcement or not. This contrasts with the data from the UCR compiled by the FBI, which only concern the crimes that came to the attention of law enforcement in one way or another. When people say that they were victim of a crime during the interview for the NCVS, they are asked about their perceptions of the offender’s motivations, which is how the number of hate crimes is estimated.

Note that since the classification as a hate crime by the NCVS only relies on the victim’s perception of the offender’s motivation, it’s possible that the NCVS overestimates the number of hate crimes that actually take place in the US, for a victim may think that the offender was motivated by prejudice even though he wasn’t. Of course, it’s also possible that a victim fails to perceive that the offender was motivated by prejudice even though he was, but I suspect it’s less likely.

Indeed, according to the NCVS, violent hate crimes made up 3.6% of total violent victimizations in 2011. Still according to the NCVS, 54% of violent hate crimes were motivated by racial prejudice, so if that were accurate violent hate crimes motivated by racial prejudice would have represented more than 1.9% of total violent victimizations. As William Wilbanks, “Is Violent Crime Intraracial?” Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 31, No. 1, 1985, pp. 117-128 noted, according to the NCVS (I think it was still called the NCS back then but whatever), only 17.7% of violent crimes involved a victim of a different race than the offender in 1981. (I don’t have time to look for more recent data, although they must be available from the NCVS, but the BJS has made it more difficult to find that kind of data over time and it’s unlikely to have changed very much anyway. It’s a commonplace in criminology that the vast majority of violent crime is intraracial. If you’re interested in that issue, you should also read Robert O’Brien, “The Interracial Nature of Violent Crimes: A Reexamination”, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 92, No. 4, 1987, pp. 817-835. This article makes a very important point that is often lost on conservatives who talk about black on white crime, but also commits a rather interesting fallacy, which I think makes the conclusion premature. I plan to write another post about this when I have some time.) It follows that, if a victim’s perceptions of the offender’s motivations were always correct, more than 10% of interracial violent crimes would be motivated by racial prejudice. This strikes me as implausibly high, but I admit that I don’t have any evidence to support my intuition and I may well be wrong, so let’s assume that the NCVS is accurate.

As I have already noted, according to the NCVS, 217,640 hate crimes were committed in 2011. This is actually the lowest number for the period considered in the paper I’m using. Over the entire period, the average is 255,082/year. Therefore, on average, almost 700 hate crimes are committed each day. According to the NCVS, the victim is white and non-Hispanic in 65% of cases, which means that almost 244 hate crimes are committed against non-whites/Hispanics every day. This doesn’t include hate crimes committed against white people who are members of a sexual, religious or ethnic minority other than Hispanic. It also doesn’t include hate crimes committed against white people who are disabled, although those seem to be relatively uncommon.

Now, according to a report published by the SPLC at the height of the hysteria about the wave of hate crimes that Trump’s victory had allegedly unleashed on the country, 701 hate crimes have been reported in news articles, social media or directly submitted to them between November 9 and November 16, including 27 against Trump supporters. Even if we trust the SPLC, which is probably one of the most epistemically irresponsible thing you can possibly do given that it’s the SPLC (if you think I’m being unfair, read the report by Jerry Krammer on the SPLC, which I mentioned in this post), that’s 36% of the number of hate crimes against non-whites/Hispanics and only 12.5% of the total number of hate crimes that are committed on average during that period of time according to the NCVS. Since the article I’m using about the NCVS doesn’t say anything about intimidations, which make up the bulk of the incidents reported by the SPLC, the actual proportion is no doubt much lower than that even if we trust the SPLC, which again is a terrible idea . Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the number of incidents reported by the SPLC has been rapidly dropping since November 9, from approximately 175 immediately after Trump’s victory to less than 15 on November 16. That’s only 6% of the number of hate crimes against non-whites/Hispanics and just 2% of the total number of hate crimes that are committed on average every day.

Of course, those are just a bunch of back-of-the-envelope calculations, but they are quite sufficient to show that we don’t have good evidence that Trump’s election increased the number of hate crimes against minorities. Forget about the causal part of that claim, it’s not even clear that the number of hate crimes has increased since Trump’s election, whatever the reason. Of course, it’s possible that they have, but a lot of things are possible. Fortunately, we don’t write stupid posts about the Kristallnacht on Facebook or run to safe spaces to play with coloring books every time we think something bad might happen, even though we don’t have any good reason to think that it will happen… It’s really amazing how often I have to remind academics, even social scientists, that a bunch of anecdotes can’t support the kind of sweeping causal generalizations they make all the time for ideological reasons.

But let’s even suppose that Trump’s election will result in a massive increase of the number of hate crimes against minorities. Let’s say, for instance, that it will be multiplied by 2, which I think is preposterous. (If you don’t think it’s preposterous and believe that Trump’s election will result in a substantial increase in the number of hate crimes, then please contact me so we can make a bet, I will give you very good odds.) Although the number of hate crimes that are committed every year is very large absolutely speaking, it’s still extremely unlikely that any given person will be the victim of a hate crime any given year. Indeed, 255,082 hate crimes per year — the vast majority of which are not serious violent crimes — may sound like a lot, but there are more than 321,000,000 people in the US and they are a very diverse bunch. According to the NCVS, the prevalence of violent hate crime between 2007 and 2011 was 1/1000 for both Hispanics and blacks, among people aged 12 or older. By comparison, according to the first article I found by doing a quick search on Google, 4.4 million people sustained a traffic-related injury that required a medical consultation in 2015, which corresponds to a prevalence of 13.7/1000.

Thus, even if Trump’s election increased the number of hate crimes against minorities by 2 (which it won’t), a black and/or Hispanic person in the US would still be more than 6 times more likely to be injured in a car accident than to be the victim of a hate crime. (Even if we take into account the fact that I didn’t have data about intimidations when I did those calculations, and make ridiculous assumptions about their prevalence, the conclusion remains essentially the same.) Yet I don’t see anyone freak out because of the possibility that they or someone they know might be injured in a car accident… The fact is that, although many American liberals apparently didn’t get the memo, we are no longer in 1915. Woodrow Wilson doesn’t live in the White House, watching The Birth of A Nation on his spare time. It’s Barack Obama who sits in the Oval Office and he watches 12 Years a Slave. Black people and other minorities still have to face a lot of obstacles in the US, but the ubiquity of hate crimes isn’t one of them and Trump isn’t going to change that.

It took me 30 minutes to do those calculations, which any moron could have done. Again, they’re just back-of-the-envelope calculations, but they nevertheless paint a pretty clear picture. (And, by the way, I think doing this more seriously would probably strengthen my point. For instance, I could show you using the data from the NCVS that white people are significantly underrepresented among people who commit hate crimes, a fact that most of you will probably find hard to believe even though it’s really not that surprising when you think about it for a minute. I will probably write something more detailed about this eventually, but I don’t have time right now.) But, to be clear, I didn’t need to do those calculations to know that the fear that the US was no longer safe for minorities because Trump won the election was ridiculous. Anyone who lives in the real world already knew that without having to look at the data from the NCVS.

Another thing I have heard is that, even if some people’s fears are irrational, it’s never appropriate to judge people’s emotional responses. It’s really amazing that so many people are prepared to make such a preposterous claim. Not only is this a ridiculous view that absolutely no one believes outside of the deranged bubble in which the people who say that live, but they don’t even believe it themselves, as can be seen from the fact that they apply it very selectively. There are crazies out there who are genuinely distressed because they think that the government put chemicals in the water to turn their kids into homosexuals. I like to make fun of them, because they’re ridiculous. Do you know how many times I have been told that, even if these people’s fears are irrational, it’s not appropriate to judge their emotional response? Zero time, that’s how many. Am I supposed to believe that people who say that it’s never appropriate to judge someone’s emotional response would provide them with safe spaces complete with coloring books, puppies and play-doh? Please. I have no patience for nonsense of any kind and, if people behave like a bunch of petulant children, I think that’s how they ought to be treated. I don’t think we are doing them any favor by indulging the most pathological aspects of their psychology.

I’m also under no delusion that my post is going to have any effect on most of those who weren’t already convinced, because for many American liberals the belief that minorities are under threat from hordes of racists who could at any time start organizing pogroms is basically a religion, which no amount of evidence can possibly undermine. If you want to see how disconnected from reality liberals are when it comes to that issue, you just have to look at the hysterical reactions that a handful of white nationalists generated, after they gathered in DC and made Nazi salutes while congratulating themselves on Trump’s election. The only reason why these morons get any attention is because journalists are trying to hurt Trump by associating him with them. (We have seen how well this strategy worked on November 8, by the way, but journalists have never been known for being fast learners.) But white nationalists have been doing the same thing for years and nobody cared except the SPLC when it needed to convince rich liberal donors to send them money. The truth is that white nationalists are politically, culturally and economically irrelevant and Trump couldn’t change that even if he wanted to, which of course he doesn’t. (Scott Alexander wrote a very good post about this after the election, which dovetails nicely with a lot of what I say here. More recently, he replied to some critics, who claimed with pretty ridiculous arguments that his judgment on the matter had been proven wrong by Trump’s recent decisions.) If liberals don’t understand that, they are just as delusional as them. But delusional they are.

I already know that, after reading this post, many people will start nit-picking with some of the things I say in order to save the pillar of their faith or accusing me of a straw man. (If I didn’t really see what I see every day on Facebook and other social media.) The truth is that, with a few exceptions, liberals just want to believe that most white people are irredeemably racist. They use that hypothesis to explain everything from Trump’s victory to the overrepresentation of blacks in prison. It provides a convenient but simplistic way of making sense of the world, which has the additional benefit of rationalizing their pathological guilt. I would never have thought I would say that a few years ago, when I was still in France, but I really miss old-fashioned Marxists. (I’m not talking about the caricature of Marxism that would-be radicals talk about on American campuses, which almost makes it sound like Marx was first and foremost concerned with the well-being of black transgender women.) They are wrong about the solutions, but their diagnostic of the problems is usually much more penetrating and, at least, they offer the right kinds of explanations. (Explanations that rely on implicit bias, for instance, don’t fall under that category.) I’ll take that any day over the cluelessness of American liberals, with their psychologizing of socio-economic issues and their moralizing of politics.

NOTE: This post is a slightly revised version of something I already published on Rightly Considered, a conservative philosophy blog, whose authors invited me to share my thoughts after the election. You should check the comments over there, where I report a conversation about this post I had with a friend on Facebook, which I think led to some useful clarifications.

EDIT: Since I have been accused of not providing any evidence that people said Trump’s election had unleashed a wave of hate crimes on the US, I added a link to a piece in the New Yorker, which asserts that “since Donald Trump won the Presidential election, there has been a dramatic uptick in incidents of racist and xenophobic harassment across the country”. The only reason I didn’t provide any evidence for that claim in the original version of this post is that I didn’t imagine anyone could seriously deny that people made that kind of claims after the election, but someone on Less Wrong just did, so I figured that I should add a link. If that’s not enough, I have no doubt that I could literally find hundreds of them.

2 thoughts

  1. Great post.

    “The only reason I didn’t provide any evidence for that claim in the original version of this post is that I didn’t imagine anyone could seriously deny that people made that kind of claims after the election…”

    That’s a bit of a mindfuck, isn’t it? In this case, examples are, thankfully, readily available; on my blog, though, I’ve encountered even more brain-melting situations — when someone says something like “prove that progressives tend to blame white racism”, it’s hard not to just point and sputter. You’ve seen it happen so many times that you cannot imagine someone contesting it… but you didn’t screenshot or otherwise archive every goddamn instance, article, tweet, essay you’ve seen, so it’s tempting to just throw up one’s hands!

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