My new podcast is here!
Happy Midterms Advent! — one more candle to go.
Meantime it seems like end-of-sitcom days on Twitter, with people packing up their boxes, downloading their tweets, and scouting for new places that are hospitable to what The New Yorker used to call “notes and comment.”
Some of those new places seem to be very three-dimensional. Today I’m heading to lunch, in fact, with Amanda Guinzburg, a friend I met on Twitter. But I’m only now meeting her in person, since our communication channel is so clearly compromised.
To recap: Twitter’s new owner came out of the gate with what’s gotta be the most freakishly inhumane and profoundly immortal lie about a national tragedy ever told. And he owns the place, so he has set the tone. (“For the record I think Elon is a sociopath,” wrote onetime Twitter developer Dave Troy recently. “This all is going to end in disaster.”)
Larcenous fees are about to be charged. (As Stephen King says, Twitter should pay people to tweet.)
And finally and most chillingly Musk evidently has a plan to use Twitter to wipe out our rabble brains so he and the other overmen can live in the light of master-race consciousness and of course Martian splendor.
So it’s possible that the self-appointed Chief Twit—Twitter’s new management—may be forcing notes and comment back into the fresh air, around tables, where they belong.
There’s a new episode of Not Even Mad out this week—and things got heated. Not Even Mad is a show where centrist Mike Pesca, conservative Jamie Kirchick, and heroically rational I debate issues of the day—but remain tightly cordial afterward. Or, I mean, friends.
We don’t mince words, and on this episode we talk about whether James Bennet should have been canceled for publishing Tom Cotton; Musk’s Twitter takeover; and the concept of “perception of crime.”
I hope you’ll listen to the whole show because, yes, I’m in favor of Bennet’s resignation from the Times — but it’s not because of politics; it’s because the Tom Cotton op-ed was an ethical disaster in ways no one seems to have noticed. So please tune in for that, and you can see if I’m right. Bennet’s rehabilitation seems justified to most people — but I’m not sure.
Meanwhile, here’s a piece of the show, in which I lay out the case against a heightened “fear of crime.” My argument has been expanded for this newsletter. If you like what you read—and/or want to hear Mike and Jamie push back on it—please listen and subscribe!
MIKE PESCA: Virginia, who’s your favorite saint?
VIRGINIA: Saint Monica— the patron saint of adultery. I don't know if she supports the adulteress or the poor cheated-on wife but, either way, I like
MIKE: So talk to us about crime.
VIRGINIA: It seems like every other political ad for the midterms is a Willie Horton redux.
And it doesn’t matter who the candidate is, right or left. A typical ad—in just the basso profundo voice you’d imagine—goes: “John Fetterman has the courage to do what’s right. Dr. Oz doesn’t know a thing about crime.”
OK, but here’s my question: Do we know a thing about crime?
Sure, everybody’s running on it. And polls show that Americans are indeed “worried about crime,” though polls rarely ask what kind of crime. (Are people panicking about wire fraud?)
In any case, 80% of Americans in a recent Gallup Poll say they worried about “crime.” We are, in fact, singularly worried about crime — more even than when it spiked in the 1990s.
But is that fear justified? Or is it an artifact of alarmist media?
A recent article in Bloomberg observed, “Incidents of violent crime remain at historic lows in New York City. But people’s views on guns and crime are often more influenced by what they see and hear, rather than by hard numbers.”
So even as hard numbers can be sliced and diced like the Bible to make almost any point, let’s get some on the table.
Across the country, in major cities, robberies are up almost 12%. Aggravated assaults up slightly.
Homicides are down slightly. And rapes fell by 5%.
Homicides are now where they were in 2000 or so, and falling from last year. And then of course everything, everything is way down since the 90s—forget about it.
So just by the numbers, if Americans were utterly rational and the fears were justified, fear of rape and murder would be down, and fear of being robbed would be up. But fear of all crimes is spiking.
Saying we’re “afraid of crime” seems more like a political position than an actual state of anxiety. For example, let’s say you nearly fear being mugged in Los Angeles. That fear may get you mileage with the martial-law crowd, but it’s misplaced.
The majority of robberies are committed with handguns. And it’s no surprise that states with lax gun laws — Texas, North Carolina, and Tennessee — have the highest robbery rates.
And yet we keep hearing about the dangers of states with Democrats in charge. In fact, how’s this for weird?: 78% of people think there’s more crime in the U.S., but only 56% of people think there’s more crime where they live.
This means that a significant chunk of people are projecting their worry about crime onto other parts of the country. They’re not worried they’re going to get mugged. They’re worried that muggers are on the loose in cities they disapprove of.
This logic dead ends very quickly. This became clear in the Oklahoma race for governor. When Democratic candidate Joy Hofmeister said accurately that rates of violent crime are higher in Oklahoma than they are in New York and California. Governor Kevin Stitt, her Republican opponent, tried to get the audience to laugh at her.
But she was absolutely right.
Oklahoma is 12th in violence per 100,000 residents and 7th in property crime. If you include both violent crime rates and property crime ratesr, Oklahoma makes the top 10 list of states with the highest crime rates. California is slightly lower in each category, and New York is much safer—and below the national averages in both property and violence.
This seeming anomaly is true across the board. In spite of alarmist yawping about violent crime in blue states, it afflicts Republican-run cities and red states way more than the Democratic ones.
In 2020, per capita murder rates were 40% higher in states won by Donald Trump than those won by Joe Biden.
8 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for the Republican presidential nominee in every election this century.
And yet voters often say they’re voting for Republicans because they are tough on crime. When, perhaps, if they’re really worried about reducing crime in (say) Texas, they might vote for people who are tough on guns. Texas, of course, has just passed permitless open-carry laws. Meaning you don’t need a permit to carry a gun, openly, anywhere you want. And there’s not even a cap on how many guns you can carry. You can walk around decked out in guns.
The police in Texas are terrified of these permissive new laws—so I guess count the Texas police among those who are worried about guns. No wonder the crime rate in Texas is such a nightmare.
But this generalized fear of “crime”—we know what the hot, camera-ready crimes are. An innocent person, usually white, is killed by a stranger, who is often Black or Latino, on the street.
That fear is not justified. Of all murders, only around 18% are committed by a stranger. And sometimes that’s a mutual combatant.
Women are mostly attacked by intimate partners. And men are mostly attacked by their associates.
If by crime we mean murders or robberies by strangers blue states, there’s really very little to fear. So no—unless we’re talking about gun violence and mass murders in red states like Texas, cars that kill pedestrians in New York City, or domestic violence, which went up with the pandemic — a generalized fear of “crime” is not justified. It’s a media and advertising conceit amped up to get Republicans elected on the idea that the solution to crime is guns — when guns, in fact, are the cause of it.
Mike and Jamie, I know you disagree…
Listen to the full episode here.
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