Clint Eastwood roared into 1967 with a “Fistful of Dollars.” Donald Trump is roaring into the 2020 election with a fistful of superlatives. Some of his “most evers” are true, many are not. Mr. Trump is a master at getting his false statements into common conversations. For example, Trump’s continual “best” statements about job creation aren’t true. Job creation is steady these days, but he won’t admit they have been going down since he took office. President Barack Obama’s creation of 8.064 million jobs between 2014 and 2016 outshines Mr. Trump’s credit of 6.519 million over his first three years in office. Trump’s yearly numbers have never matched any of Obama’s last three years. Some voters don’t question the misleading statements because the economy is fine even though Trump’s superlative job growth statements are not true.
Another economic manipulation of facts that Trump uses on a regular basis is his touting of low unemployment. He is absolutely correct to claim the lowest unemployment rates in 50 years. Lots of people are working––some with two or three jobs to make ends meet. But, let’s look at who did more to reduce unemployment, Obama or Trump. At the end of the Great Recession in 2009, unemployment hit a high of 10% in October. When Obama left office, unemployment was 4.6%––a drop of 5.4%. Trump took over that pretty low 4.6% rate, so expecting huge drops are unreasonable. His bettering unemployment numbers to 3.5% over his first three years was 1.1%. Obama’s drop rate over his lasts three years was 2.0%––0.9% more than Trump over a similar timespan. Trump is the beneficiary of the lowest number, but didn’t drop the rate all that much. Unemployment is predicted to jump to 3.6% next year and then 3.7%. Rates just can’t stay that low forever, no matter who is POTUS.
The point is that data have to be manipulate to make a case that the economy is better today than it was three years ago. Economic numbers have been on a steady climb since February 17, 2009, when Obama signed the Recovery Bill and continue through today. That’s 11 years of mostly steady growth spanning two administrations that cannot be totally credited to either. The 132 months of bull market is the longest in history. It surpassed the 1990s market that lasted 113 months a year and a half ago. 2009 to 2017 is the legacy of Barack Obama. He dug us out of a nadir he didn’t create. Donald Trump doesn’t have the luxury of claiming all the post 2017 gains for himself––falsely, he does. The gains need to be evaluated as a whole and not bits with contrived explanations about the U.S. being better off now than three years ago. The economy is like water in a glass. Obama started filling the empty glass and Trump took over and added water. The Trump added water would not make the glass as full without Obama’s initial filling efforts. Like it or not, today’s economy is a comingled effort and not Trump’s to singularly claim as his own. The economy wasn’t as strong when Obama left office as it is today, but Trump did not “inherit a total mess,” as he likes to whine. Trump got into the game by rounding third base with a tailwind.
Strong economies get presidents re-elected and weak ones tend to send them packing. Jobs, earnings, savings, and ability to provide for a family make or break an incumbent. Ergo, it is expected that, as is the norm, Donald Trump, seeking a second term; the as-of-yet unidentified Democrat; and other down-ballot candidates will use the economy as a talking point in their stump-speeches.
Here’s the problem: Mr. Trump is in too deeply to back out of his lies about his role in the state of the economy. He’ll have to continue to build his house-of-cards to get re-elected, hoping even a gentle wind doesn’t come along. Down-ballot Republicans will have to waste precious time and money to endorse POTUS’ lies; spin them, risking looking foolish like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) when she indicated Mr. Trump had “learned a lesson” after the impeachment and trial only to have him double-down on his erratic behavior; or challenge Trump’s false economic statements, then brace to face the wrath.
Democrats face jeopardy too. To make a winning case they need to show that the economy is in poor health. It isn’t. It may be on a razor’s edge and perhaps a little wobbly at times, but every family has their own evaluations ranging all over the map. Some families have gotten raises, tons have not. Many have to work several jobs to eke out a subsistence living. The wealthy have gotten wealthier from tax cuts and corporation stock buy-backs. The stock market hovers around record numbers, but even though the market only affects the daily lives of about 5% of the population and doesn’t affect 50% of the population at all, the numbers are in daily public view. A fatter 401k is certainly an indication that the economy is going well, but the numbers for middle-class investors won’t do more than buy a nice vacation––nothing life-style changing.
Citizens will rate the economy based on their own experiences. Both parties should cry “Uncle!” on the good-for-some, bad-for-others economy and concentrated on other issues.
Unfortunately, even highlighting other issues, we’re not immune to Donald Trump’s need to create superlatives––real or imagined.