AP FACT CHECK: Is Trump’s America great again or hellscape?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican National Convention begged this question: Why are President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters describing the state of his union as a hellscape?
It was perhaps the central paradox for voters wondering what to believe in the rhetoric, because it defied logic to believe it all. Are Americans living in a dystopia or in an America made great again by Trump?
Four years ago, candidate Trump promised that if he won, “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.”
Now? “I’ve never seen our streets go this bad so quickly,” Pat Lynch, representing tens of thousands of New York police officers, told the GOP proceedings. “We are staring down the barrel of a public safety disaster.” He said this in remarks singing Trump’s praises.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and a former New York mayor, spoke of years of “carnage” and violence rising now, and implored, “Mr. President, make our nation safe again.”
All of the convention’s apocalyptic rhetoric was in service of bashing Trump challenger Joe Biden, Democratic mayors and national Democrats both in and out of office as being soft on violence and anarchy. Yet the landscape of lawlessness they described is Trump’s America now.
Hyperbole suffused the proceedings, both when Trump and his supporters hailed his record and when they denounced the other side. Outright falsehoods were heard every night on the social justice protests, the coronavirus, the economy and Biden’s agenda.
A selection from the week:
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE, expressing support for people in uniform: “People like Dave Patrick Underwood, an officer in Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, who was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California.” — Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Pence is blurring what happened, leaving the impression that Underwood was a victim of rioters. Underwood was not killed by demonstrators in Oakland who were protesting for racial justice.
Federal authorities say Underwood was fatally shot by Steven Carrillo, an Air Force staff sergeant they say has ties to a far-right, anti-government movement, while Underwood was guarding a federal courthouse during protests in May. Officials believe Carrillo used the protests as a cover for the slaying and his subsequent escape.
Carrillo, 32, hatched a plot to target officers with at least one other accomplice online, federal authorities allege. Over an eight-day span before his capture, they say, Carrillo fatally shot Underwood and wounded his partner, then killed a California sheriff’s deputy and injured four others.
Of the two law enforcement officers killed, Pence only mentioned the one who was in the vicinity of the protest. The other is Santa Cruz County Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, who authorities say was killed by Carrillo while pursuing him in June.
KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL CAMERON: “On the economy: Joe Biden couldn’t do it, but President Trump did build an economy that worked for everyone, especially minorities.” — Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not accurate.
Republicans can talk successfully about the decline in unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic workers. But that’s just one gauge; plenty of economic troubles and inequalities abound for minorities. Minority groups still lagged behind white people with regard to incomes, wealth and home ownership before the pandemic. But when the disease struck, it became clear that the economy did not work well for everybody as the job losses and infections disproportionately hit minorities.
Black unemployment now stands at 14.6%. Hispanic unemployment is 12.9%. The white unemployment rate is 9.2%. For every dollar of total wealth held by white households, Blacks have just 5 cents, according to the Federal Reserve. It’s 4 cents for Hispanics. That is not evidence of an economy working “especially” for minorities.
ERIC TRUMP: “Biden has pledged to defund the police.” — Wednesday.
REP. STEVE SCALISE of Louisiana: “Joe Biden has embraced the left’s insane mission to defund them.”
THE FACTS: No, Biden has explicitly rejected the call by some on the left to defund the police. He has proposed more money for police, conditioned on improvements in their practices.
Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before the protests over racial injustice, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.
Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into federal community policing grant programs. That’s more money, not less.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
GIULIANI: “Black Lives Matter and antifa sprang into action and, in a flash, they hijacked the peaceful protest into vicious, brutal riots.” — Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s a hollow claim.
There’s no evidence that Black Lives Matter or antifa, or any political group for that matter, is infiltrating racial injustice protests and injecting violence.
In June, The Associated Press analyzed court records, employment histories and social media posts for 217 people arrested in Minneapolis and the District of Columbia, cities at the center of the protests earlier this year.
More than 85 percent of the people arrested were local residents, and few had affiliation with any organized groups. Social media posts for a few of those arrested indicated they were involved in left-leaning activities while others expressed support for the political right and Trump himself.
Local police departments were forced to knock down widespread social media rumors that busloads of “antifa,” a term for leftist militants, were coming to violently disrupt cities and towns during nationwide racial justice protests. In June, Twitter and Facebook busted accounts linked to white supremacy groups that were promoting some of those falsehoods online.
TRUMP: “The United States has among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country anywhere in the world.” — Thursday.
THE FACTS: Not true. Not if you consider Russia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and India to be major countries.
The U.S. sits right in the middle when it comes to COVID-19 mortality rates in the 20 nations most impacted by the pandemic, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
Of the 20, Mexico has the highest mortality rate at 10.8 deaths for every 100 confirmed COVID cases, followed by Ecuador at 5.8. Saudi Arabia had the lowest rate of the 20 nations at 1.2, followed by Bangladesh, the Philippines, Russia, Morocco, India, Argentina, South Africa and Chile.
The U.S. had the 10th lowest of the 20 nations, with a mortality rate of 3.1.
When the center looked at the data in another way, analyzing the COVID death rate for every 100,000 residents, the U.S. fares even worse. Only three nations — Brazil, Chile and Peru — posted higher death rates.
Understanding deaths as a percentage of the population or as a percentage of known infections is problematic because countries track and report COVID-19 deaths and cases differently. Many other factors are in play in shaping a death toll besides how well a country responded to the pandemic, such as the overall health or youth of national populations.
TRUMP: “Instead of following the science, Joe Biden wants to inflict a painful shutdown on the entire country. His shutdown would inflict unthinkable and lasting harm on our nation’s children, families, and citizens of all backgrounds.” — Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s false. Biden has publicly said he would shut down the nation’s economy only if scientists and public health advisers recommended he do so to stem the COVID-19 threat. In other words, he said he would follow the science, not disregard it.
Speaking Sunday in an ABC interview, Biden said he “will be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives” when he was asked if he would be willing to shut the country again.
“So if the scientists say shut it down?” asked ABC’s David Muir.
“I would shut it down,” Biden responded. “I would listen to the scientists.” The former vice president has said repeatedly that no one knows what January would look like.
DONALD TRUMP JR. on the coronavirus response: “The president quickly took action and shut down travel from China.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: No, he didn’t shut down travel from China. He restricted it. Dozens of countries took similar steps to control travel from hot spots before or around the same time the U.S. did.
The U.S. restrictions that took effect Feb. 2 continued to allow travel to the U.S. from China’s Hong Kong and Macao territories over the past five months. The Associated Press reported that more than 8,000 Chinese and foreign nationals based in those territories entered the U.S. in the first three months after the travel restrictions were imposed.
Additionally, more than 27,000 Americans returned from mainland China in the first month after the restrictions took effect. U.S. officials lost track of more than 1,600 of them who were supposed to be monitored for virus exposure.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also told the AP that the federal government was slow to understand how much the coronavirus was spreading from Europe, which helped drive the acceleration of outbreaks across the U.S. in late February. Trump didn’t announce travel restrictions for many European countries until mid-March.
TRUMP: “Biden also vowed to oppose school choice and oppose all charter schools.” — Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s false. Biden doesn’t oppose charter schools. He opposes federal money going to for-profit charter companies.
Such companies are only a slice of the charter school market, meaning Biden’s position wouldn’t substantially alter the charter landscape that is dominated by nonprofit organizations.
Biden does oppose federal money for tuition vouchers.
TRUMP: “We protected your preexisting conditions. Very strongly protected preexisting ... and you don’t hear that.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: You don’t hear it because it’s not true.
People with such medical problems have health insurance protections because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Trump is trying to dismantle.
One of Trump’s alternatives to Obama’s law — short-term health insurance, already in place — doesn’t have to cover preexisting conditions. Another alternative is association health plans, which are oriented to small businesses and sole proprietors and do cover those conditions.
Neither of the two alternatives appears to have made much difference in the market.
Meanwhile, Trump’s administration is pressing the Supreme Court for full repeal of the Obama-era law, including provisions that protect people with preexisting conditions from health insurance discrimination.
With “Obamacare” still in place, preexisting conditions continue to be covered by regular individual health insurance plans.
Insurers must take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and charge the same standard premiums to healthy people and those who are in poor health, or have a history of medical problems.
Before the Affordable Care Act, any insurer could deny coverage — or charge more — to anyone with a preexisting condition who was seeking to buy an individual policy.
NIKKI HALEY, former ambassador to the United Nations, on the Democrats: “They want a government takeover of health care. They want to ban fracking and kill millions of jobs.” — Monday.
REP. JIM JORDAN of Ohio: “Defund the police, defund border patrol and defund our military.” — Monday.
RONNA McDANIEL, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee: “You deserve to know that they would ban fracking and eliminate fossil fuels, which would kill millions of good-paying jobs and raise the cost of driving our cars and heating our homes. You deserve to know that they want a complete government takeover of our health care system, so moms like me won’t be able to take our kids to the same pediatrician they’ve been seeing for years.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: Those aren’t Biden’s positions. A number of Republican speakers seized on proposals of the Democratic left, in some cases distorting those positions, and assigned them to Biden, who doesn’t share those views.
He does not favor a government takeover of health care; instead he proposes building on Obama’s law, which preserves the private insurance market while expanding Medicaid.
Biden also did not endorse proposals to cease border enforcement or even to decriminalize illegal crossings.
Biden supports banning only new oil and gas permits, fracking included, on federal land. But most U.S. production is on private land. The government says production on federal land accounted for less than 10% of oil and gas in 2018.
In a March 15 primary debate, Biden misstated his energy policy, suggesting he would allow no new fracking. His campaign quickly corrected the record. Biden has otherwise been consistent on his middle-of-the-road position, going so far as to tell an anti-fracking activist that he “ought to vote for somebody else” if he wanted an immediate fracking ban.
IVANKA TRUMP: “Our president rapidly mobilized the full force of government and the private sector ... to build the most robust testing system in the world.” — Thursday.
THE FACTS: Her assertion of superior U.S. testing for COVID-19 is dubious. The U.S. repeatedly stumbled with testing in the early weeks of the outbreak, allowing the virus to quickly spread in the U.S. The president’s own experts say the U.S. is nowhere near the level of testing needed to control the virus.
The U.S. currently is conducting nearly 750,000 tests a day, far short of what many public health experts say the U.S. should be testing to control the spread of the virus. Looking to the fall, some experts have called for 4 million or more tests daily, while a group assembled by Harvard University estimated that 20 million a day would be needed to keep the virus in check.
Public-health authorities acknowledge testing was a critical failure in the crucial early months. The number of tests being done has since surged but remains inadequate. Many who do get tested have unduly long waits for results, during which time they can be spreading the virus to others.
SEN. TOM COTTON of Arkansas: “Joe Biden sent pallets of cash to the ayatollahs.” — Thursday.
THE FACTS: This is a distorted tale Trump and Republicans love to tell. Yes, the U.S. flew cash to Iran in the Obama years, but it was money the United States owed to that country.
Cotton also played into the convention’s pattern of attributing every questionable action of Obama’s administration to Biden personally.
PENCE: “Four years ago we inherited ... an economy struggling to break out of the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. ... In our first three years we built the greatest economy in the world.” — Wednesday.
LARRY KUDLOW, Trump economic adviser: Trump was ”inheriting a stagnant economy on the front end of recession,” and under the president, “the economy was rebuilt in three years.” — Tuesday.
THE FACTS: This is false. The economy was healthy when Trump arrived at the White House.
Even if the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was slow, Trump took office with unemployment at a low 4.7%, steady job growth and a falling federal budget deficit. The longest expansion in U.S. history began in the middle of 2009 and continued until the start of the year, spanning both the Obama and Trump presidencies.
The U.S. economy did benefit from Trump’s 2017 tax cuts with a jump in growth in 2018, but the budget deficit began to climb as a result of the tax breaks that favored companies and the wealthy in hopes of permanently expanding the economy.
Annual growth during Obama’s second term averaged about 2.3%. Trump notched a slightly better 2.5% during his first three years, but the country swung into recession this year because of the coronavirus and will probably leave Trump with an inferior track record to his predecessor over four years.
SEN. RAND PAUL: “Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war, which President Trump has long called the worst geopolitical mistake of our generation.” — Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Trump had no more foresight on this matter than Biden. Neither was against it when it started.
When asked during a Sept. 11, 2002, radio interview if he would support an Iraq invasion, Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The next month, Biden as a senator voted to authorize George W. Bush to use force in Iraq.
The next March, just days after the U.S. launched its invasion, Trump said it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
It wasn’t until September 2003 that Trump first publicly raised doubts about the invasion, saying “a lot of people (are) questioning the whole concept of going in in the first place.” In November 2005, Biden called his Senate vote to authorize force a mistake.
ERIC TRUMP: The president slashed taxes and “wages went through the roof.” — Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not quite. Wage growth did improve, but there is clearly still a roof on workers’ incomes.
The 2017 tax cuts appear unlikely to deliver on their promised pay increases. White House economists argued that incomes would surge by at least $4,000 because of the lower corporate tax rate. That has yet to occur and seems unlikely given the current recession.
But average hourly wages did improve to a 3.5% annual gain by February 2019, much better than the 2.7% annual gain in December 2016 before Trump became president. The problem was that wage growth then began to slip through the end of last year despite the steady hiring. Wage gains only accelerated again with the pandemic and layoffs of millions of poor workers that artificially raised average wages.
What workers have yet to see is a meaningful change in the distribution of income. More than half of total household income goes to the top 20% of earners, according to the Census Bureau. Their share has increased slightly under Trump with data that is current through 2018. The bottom 20% of earners get just 3.1% of total income, just as they did before Trump’s presidency.
CRIS PETERSON, from a Wisconsin dairy family: “Our entire economy and dairy farming are once again roaring back. One person deserves the credit and our vote, President Donald J. Trump.” — Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not everyone in the dairy industry views it as booming, especially as larger operations are putting smaller family farms out of business.
The Agriculture Department reported this summer that “dairy herds fell by more than half between 2002 and 2019, with an accelerating rate of decline in 2018 and 2019, even as milk production continued to grow.”
Part of the problem is that smaller farms face higher production costs. Farms with more than 2,000 cattle are more likely for their sales to exceed their total costs, while smaller farms are more likely to operate at a loss by this metric, according to government figures.
PATRICIA McCLOSKEY on Democrats: “They want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning. This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments into thriving suburban neighborhoods. President Trump smartly ended this government overreach, but Joe Biden wants to bring it back.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: That’s a false account of what Biden supports. In 2015, during the Obama administration, a regulation took effect intended to ensure that communities confront racial segregation in housing.
The rule required more than 1,200 jurisdictions receiving federal Housing and Urban Development block grants and housing aid to analyze their housing stock and come up with plans to combat patterns of segregation and discrimination. It did not eliminate zoning for single-family homes in the suburbs.
Trump revoked the rule; Biden supports it. But Biden does not support requiring municipalities to refrain from building single-family homes as a condition for getting money from HUD.
McClosky and her husband have been charged with a felony for brandishing guns outside their St. Louis home as racial justice protesters passed.
TRUMP, on mail-in voting: “Absentee — like in Florida — absentee is good. But other than that, they’re very, very bad.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: He’s making a false distinction. Mail-in ballots are cast in the same way as absentee mail ballots, with the same level of scrutiny such as signature verification in many states.
In more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, voters have a right to “no excuse” absentee voting. That means they can use mail-in ballots for any reason, regardless of whether a person is out of town or working.
In Florida, the Legislature in 2016 voted to change the wording of such balloting from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail” to make clear a voter can cast such ballots if they wish. So there is no “absentee” voting in that state, as Trump alludes to.
More broadly, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.
TRUMP, on the November vote count and Democrats: “We have to be very, very careful and this time they are trying to do it with the whole post office scam. They will blame it on the post office. You can see them setting it up.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: No postal scam has emerged from the Democrats. Instead Trump has given credence to suspicions that he wants to suppress mail-in voting to help his chances in the election.
He’s said as much. In an interview this month, he admitted he’s trying to starve the U.S. Postal Service of money in order to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him the election.
TRUMP, on defective ballots in an election: “What does defective mean? It means fraud.” — Monday.
THE FACTS: No, defective ballots do not equate to fraud. The overwhelming majority aren’t.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the vast majority of ballots are disqualified because they arrive late, a particular worry this year because of recent U.S. Postal Service delays and an expected surge in mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ballots also are deemed defective if there is a missing signature — common with newer voters unfamiliar with the process — or it doesn’t match what’s on file. In addition, some states require absentee voters to get a witness or notary to sign their ballots.
“None of those are fraud,” said Wendy Weiser, director of Brennan’s democracy program at NYU School of Law. When suspected cases are investigated for potential fraud, studies have borne out the main reason for defects is voter mistake, she said.
Defective ballots also disproportionately impact voters of color, and recent lawsuits have successfully challenged some requirements as posing health risks or disenfranchising voters. Earlier this year, for instance, a federal judge ruled that a South Carolina requirement to have witnesses to mail-in ballots could put voters’ health at risk; the requirement was suspended it for the June primary. Others states including Minnesota and Rhode Island have also suspended that requirement due to the pandemic.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz in Chicago; David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island; Bill Barrow in Atlanta; Matthew Lee, Paul Wiseman and Matthew Daly in Washington; and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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