Weeks after Election Day, millions of Americans are struggling with anxiety that a Donald Trump presidency will be an unmitigated, unprecedented disaster.
The intensity of the reaction is enough to make some of us wonder if this fear that Trump is terrible has become so ingrained that it would survive any encounter with even the strongest evidence to the contrary.
Rather than speculating, or worrying, how about laying down some markers?
Trump, a businessman and Wharton graduate, is almost certainly familiar with the management aphorism that “you get what you measure.” If he isn’t, it’s something he can pick up from his adviser Rudolph Giuliani. As mayor of New York, Giuliani was known for the local crime numbers — “Compstat,” for computer statistics — and for an annual mayor’s management report that took the approach of quantification into education, parks and human services.
Let’s look at where we are now in regard to some areas that have Trump opponents most anxious.
In 2015, according to the Census Bureau, 9.1 percent of Americans, or 29 million people, were without health insurance for the whole year. Some people worry that a Republican repeal of ObamaCare will cause the numbers of uninsured to skyrocket. If the percentage of uninsured Americans declines after four years of President Trump, perhaps those concerns are misplaced.
There’s a concern — one I share — that President Trump will make America less welcoming to immigrants. The most recently available statistics from the Census, from 2013, indicate that about 40 million Americans, or about 12.9 percent of the overall population, were foreign-born; of those, about 18.2 million are naturalized U.S. citizens. If, a few years into a Trump presidency, the foreign-born population percentage stays stable or grows, while the percentage of citizens increases, it will be a sign that worries about Trump leading an anti-immigrant onslaught were overstated.
The black youth unemployment rate was 27.6 percent in October 2016, on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s nearly double the 14.1 percent rate for white youth. If that number declines, or if the gap between blacks and whites shrinks, it might mean that the anxiety about Trump being bad for minorities is misplaced.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports an “incarceration rate” measuring the number of people in prison or local jail for each 100,000 people in the overall U.S. population. For 2014, the number was 690, representing about 2,224,400 prisoners. If the incarceration rate declines, perhaps fears of Trump’s supposed authoritarianism are overblown.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track the homicide and suicide rates. In 2014 the homicide rate was 5 deaths for every 100,000 population; the suicide rate was 13.4 deaths for every 100,000 population. The CDC also track deaths related to opioids, including overdoses of heroin or prescription pain relievers; there were 28,000 such deaths in 2014. If Trump can turn these numbers around, perhaps fears that he’s a symbol of violence or despair are unfounded.
Another number to remember is 50. That’s the number of states in which abortion and gay marriage are legal. If that’s unchanged at the end of the Trump administration, it will be a sign that the concern over Trump’s effect on the Supreme Court was unwarranted.
People may respond that any progress on these fronts will come despite Trump rather than because of him. They may say I chose the wrong statistics, deemphasizing, say, the national debt or foreign policy. They may reply that net numbers don’t adequately capture the pain felt by individual souls who lose their health insurance or get deported.
Fair enough. But even so. Pick your own numbers, or save these ones. Then check back in three or four years. It will be a good test of whether Trump-related anxiety had any empirical basis, or whether it was just a panic attack.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.