Donald Trump is good at certain things. (Please take a deep breath and don’t throw your mouse or laptop at the wall.) I have not come to praise Mr. Lost The Popular Vote By 2.9 Million. But the truth is the truth—even if the truth is something Trump wouldn’t recognize if it landed right on the dyed bird’s nest that covers his dome. In any case, we must acknowledge that the man has demonstrated the ability to shape the media narrative for his own nefarious purposes.
For example, when the term “fake news” first gained widespread usage during the 2016 campaign, it most often referred to anti-Hillary, pro-Trump stories planted by non-journalists on social media. Trump, however, has over the past year co-opted the term successfully enough so that, for many, it now primarily refers to mainstream journalists’ supposed anti-Trump bias. Similarly, he has sought to control the narrative about the strong performance of the American economy, and last week’s passage of the rich man’s tax cut is going to be a crucial pivot point in that narrative. The mainstream media and the American people simply cannot allow him to control it the way he has controlled the narrative on fake news.
Throughout his time in the White House, Trump has been obsessed with denigrating the accomplishments of Barack Obama (Think: “Obamacare is imploding”—it isn’t, but who knows what will happen next year as a result of Trump’s repeal of the individual mandate and other steps taken to sabotage the health care law). On the economy, this exchange with Fox News talking head Laura Ingraham from last month stands as representative:
INGRAHAM: Look at the economy, are you getting the credit for this economic revival without tax cuts through – yeah, without Obamacare repeal yet, and this is a stunning economic revival in 10 months. TRUMP: One of the greatest in the history of our country, and I'm in here now 10 months, and we are setting record after record, day after day. I think we hit another one today. No, I'm not getting enough credit for it. [Snip] Tax cuts – if we get this through and I think we will – you’re going to see this economy take off like a rocket ship.
“Are you getting enough credit for all the great things you’ve done?” is, apparently, what a real journalist asks a sitting president. To me, it sounds a lot like state-run media in a Soviet-style dictatorship. Between that and the you-know-what-licking “prayers” being offered at recent Cabinet meetings—Mike Pence’s praise for his boss makes Lucius Malfoy’s brownnosing of Lord Voldemort look like amateur hour—our government is drawing closer and closer to that of North Korea, in appearance at least, but unfortunately not in terms of diplomatic relations.
Comparing the economy under Trump and Obama has also been a regular feature in this theater of the absurd.
In response to the White House press secretary’s misleading tweet (this is in fact far from the best year in percentage terms for the Dow), former Obama economic adviser Steven Rattner cited the following non-fake data, i.e., the truth.
Washington Post fact-checker Nicole Lewis offered a detailed comparison of the economy under Trump thus far and Obama. There’s far too much detail to go into here, but here are some highlights. First, the stock market growth in Trump’s first 10 months doesn’t look nearly as impressive when you learn that it is no better than the market’s performance in peer countries like the UK, Germany, and Japan. This isn’t a Trump bull market, it’s a global one. By comparison, under Obama the U.S. stock market, as measured by the S&P 500, not only tripled over eight years, it significantly outperformed the markets in those same peer countries.
Job growth under Trump lags behind job growth under Obama (in a comparable time period, i.e., February through November) in each of the previous four years, and five out of the last seven years of the Obama presidency. And while we’re on the topic of media narrative, Trump now touts the big drop of about one-half of 1 percent in the unemployment rate since he took office, but while Obama was president he denigrated the unemployment rate as “nonsense.” That’s not surprising given that it fell almost five points during the final five years of the Obama presidency.
Overall, the economy under Trump thus far looks no better by most measures than the economy in the last years under Obama. Furthermore, whereas Trump inherited the strong Obama economy, Obama inherited the Great Recession from George W. Bush—the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. That crash followed years of Republican control of Congress and a round of tax cuts whose benefits flowed mostly to the wealthy (sound familiar?). Until the passage of the Trump tax scheme, there were no significant changes to the economic policies put in place during the Obama presidency—policies that brought our economy out of the Great Recession and which have given us the longest lasting period of job growth in our history. As John Cassidy at the New Yorker put it, Obama gave Trump:
An economy that is growing steadily, with large numbers of jobs being created on a regular basis, and living standards finally edging up. Other economic indicators, such as the size of the budget deficit, the level of consumer confidence, and the leverage ratios in the financial system, are also looking much healthier than they were when Obama took office.
Trump’s comments above about his tax scheme and “rocket fuel” make clear that he will go even further than he has so far in claiming credit for anything good happening in the economy. He and his right-wing minions have in fact begun doing so. Here’s a headline from the Conservative Review: “The Trump tax cuts are ALREADY raising wages” (all-caps makes it much more convincing, doesn’t it?). Don’t buy it. As Conor Sen at Bloomberg explained, the rich man’s tax cut is merely the “excuse to raise wages. The tight labor market is the real reason.” And of course the tight labor market reflects years of a strong economy bequeathed to us by none other than President Barack Obama. Don’t let Donald Trump steal the credit.