The Syrian slaughter. North Korea nuclear warheads. ISIS attacks. School shootings. Social media-fed teen depression. Thugs victimizing people of color and women. Inequality increasing. Online privacy invaded. Climate change accelerating. Democracy flagging as autocrats control Turkey, Hungary, China, and Russia, and as big money, voter suppression, and Russian influence undermine American elections. U.S. violent crime and illegal immigration soaring.
For news junkies, it’s depressing. We know that bad news predominates: If it bleeds, it leads. But we can nevertheless take heart from underreported encouraging trends. Consider, for example, the supposed increases in crime and illegal immigration.
Is it true, as President Trump has said, that “crime is rising” and in inner cities “is at levels that nobody has seen”? Seven in 10 Americans appeared to agree, when reporting to Gallup in each recent year that violent crime was higher than in the previous year. Actually, crime data aggregated by the FBI (shown below) reveals that violent (and property) crime have dramatically fallen since the early 1990s.
And is the U.S. being flooded with immigrants across its Mexican border—“evil, illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes,” as a 2018 DonaldJTrump.com campaign ad declared? In reality, the influx has subsided to a point where, Politifact confirms, “more illegal Mexican immigrants are leaving the United States than entering it.” (Should we build a wall to keep them in?)
But what about immigrant crime—fact or fiction? “Americans are five times more likely to say immigrants make the [crime] situation worse rather than better (45% to 9%, respectively),” reports Gallup. Not so. Multiple studies find that, as the National Academy of Sciences reports, “immigrants are less likely than the native-born to commit crimes” and are underrepresented in American prisons.
For more good news, consider other heartening long-term trends:
- World hunger is retreating.
- Child labor is less common.
- Literacy is increasing.
- Wars are becoming less frequent.
- Explicit racial prejudice (as in opposition to interracial marriage) has plummeted.
- Gay, lesbian, and transgender folks are becoming more accepted.
- Infant mortality is rarer and life expectancy is increasing.
Such trends are amply documented in Steven Pinker’s recent books, The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now, and in Johan Norber’s Progress, and Gregg Easterbrooks, It’s Better Than It Looks. As President Obama observed, if you had to choose when to live, “you’d choose now.”
Yes, in some ways, these are dark times. But these are also the times of committed Parkland teens. Mobilized citizens. Machine learning. Immune therapies. #MeToo. #BlackLivesMatter. Low inflation. Near full employment. Digital streaming. Smart cars. Wearable technologies. Year-round fresh fruit. And Post-It notes.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it is the worst of times, it is the best of times. It is an age of foolishness, it is an age of wisdom. It is a season of darkness, it is a season of light. It is the winter of despair, it is the spring of hope.