An Appeal to the Savvy Trump Voter
There is a class of voters who voted for Trump in 2016, and are considering voting for him again, who are too sophisticated to believe his many lies, or to take the Fox News propaganda machine seriously. These are the people who might say something like this, at least pre-pandemic: “O.K. it’s true. Trump is a racist, misogynist, divisive, childish, mean-spirited bully. But hey, he’s done great on the economy.”
Since then we’ve had a pandemic that has resulted in 225,000 deaths with no end in sight, caused at least in part by the misinformation and inaction of the Trump Administration. And we have a nearly eight percent unemployment rate, with many unemployed long term. Also, Trump has made clear his willingness to upend our unbroken 230-year constitutional tradition of permitting the peaceful transfer of power, based on baseless accusations against mail-in voting. This stance alone, together with his lack of leadership on Covid-19, should disqualify Trump from a second term. But for those who are still considering voting for him because he’s “good for the economy,” maybe it’s time to re-examine that claim.
First, it’s pretty well accepted that a president’s role – any president’s – in the economy is exaggerated: he gets more credit and more blame than is warranted for an economy largely determined by forces beyond his control. It’s also true, as these charts published by Business Insider back in October 2019 show, that Trump’s record on the economy was very similar to Obama’s in terms of job creation and overall economic growth. In fact it was Obama/Biden who did the heavy lifting of pulling the economy out of a deep recession, and under Trump, the economy finally reaped the benefits of a long recovery, when employment, which had been steadily rising since 2010, finally began to push wages up. (See Ben Casselman, Why Wages Are Finally Rising, 10 Years After the Recession, N.Y. Times, May 2, 2019)
Trump’s economic policy initiatives scarcely helped those who needed it the most. Tax cuts that were urged by Republican donors and carried by the Republican Congress mainly benefitted the rich and had a only small and temporary stimulating effect on economic growth and business investment, but increased the deficit and inequality.
His program of deregulation, while it may have pruned back some unnecessary regulations, took a wrecking ball to environmental protections, reversing or now in the process of reversing about 100 environmental regulations, many designed to fight climate change. The Trump voter who is smart enough not to believe Trump/Fox News propaganda is also smart enough to know that climate change has become an extremely serious threat. And this not like some environmental issues, e.g., save the spotted owl, where the connection between the environment and the economy is obscure. Morgan Stanley has estimated that climate change already has cost the economies of North America $415 billion over the past three years in the form of damage from hurricanes, wildfires and other extreme weather events. The impact is projected to be much greater as the planet’s temperature rises. How can someone who labels climate changes a hoax be a good steward of our economy?
One thing I would give Trump credit for is changing the conversation about trade. The elites in both parties underestimated the pain caused by so-called free trade. In this respect Trump had areas of commonality with the progressive Democrats, whom he routinely bashes, in their skepticism of NAFTA and unfair trade relations with China. The skepticism has now become mainstream in the Democratic Party and is reflected in Biden’s “Buy American” trade policy. But to actually implement fairer trade, and counter the expansionist initiatives of the Chinese Communist Party, we need a carefully built coalitions with our European and Asian allies. Building coalitions and being careful aren't part of Trump’s skill set.
We should be clear that there is no evidence that Trump has some kind of great competence on the economy that somehow compensates for his flagrant attempt to discredit democratic elections, his fatal mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, and the other Trump failures and outrages. The savvy Trump voter won’t be a Trump voter this time around.
Robert Katz served as a staff attorney and supervising attorney at the California Supreme Court from 1993-2018. Before that he was in private practice representing public agencies, and worked as a newspaper reporter covering local government in Santa Cruz County.
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