Column | Why Trump isn’t getting credit for the economy
When the national economy is on a roll, history tells us, the American people are happy, content, upbeat and readily credit whoever the President is at the time for creating an environment in which growth, opportunity and job security can thrive.
At the outset of 2018, the unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent (de facto full employment); economic growth is slightly above three per cent (well ahead of that of recent years); new jobs are being created at more than 200,000 a month; consumer spending and confidence has risen above last year’s levels, and the stock market breaks records daily (it’s now closing in on 25,000).
And, President Trump’s public approval standing has tumbled to Richard Nixon/Watergate levels. The poll average compiled by Real Clear Politics, for instance, shows Trump’s approval rating in the red by anywhere from 17 to 21 points.
By all measurements, the nation’s economic health graph shows a steadily upward trajectory, normally a cause for celebration and complimentary acknowledgements that the man in the White House recognized what was necessary and accomplished it.
Trump is understandably frustrated at the lack of credit coming his way for the robust economy, but it is largely of his own making.
Because of his pathological need to take to Twitter upon waking every morning to throw out public policy pronouncements, castigate political opponents, and respond caustically to perceived slights, he’s become his own worst enemy.
He seems unable to distinguish between meaningless partisan political sniping which should be ignored and issues of greater consequence. He treats them all as if the future of the Republic was at stake.
His daily Twitter sideshow has obscured what should be the administration’s most significant accomplishment – an economic resurgence with solid statistical data to back it up.
He has gifted the media with issue after issue with which to question his temperament and his intellectual ability to cope with the pressures of the office. His tendency to exaggerate or embellish suggests he believes his version of events should be accepted at face value no matter their veracity.
To be sure, a sizeable portion of the media openly despises him, pouncing gleefully on any opportunity to point out his foibles and suggest the American people committed a horrific mistake last year when they chose him to lead the country.
He’s attacked members of his own party in Congress as well as his own Cabinet officers.
These incidents and dozens of others like them generated hours of inane chatter on cable TV talkfests.
Both he and his supporters insist that Trump is merely sticking to one of his principles: “If you hit me, I’ll hit back harder.”
That may work when you are a high powered real estate developer in New York and elsewhere and everyone you’re dealing with acts in the same manner, but it’s out of place in the White House and can turn out to be ultimately destructive.
Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton governed during periods of sustained growth and basked in the admiration of a grateful nation. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was driven from office by his failure to deal effectively with a “misery index” – a combination of unemployment and interest rates – that exceeded 20 per cent. In a 1992 debate with Clinton, President George H. W. Bush, asked how the sagging economy had affected he and his family, rambled incoherently and solidified the criticism that he was out of touch with ordinary Americans.
Aside from during times of war, the economy dominates the nation’s political environment (remember, “It’s the economy, stupid,” the Clinton campaign battle cry in 1992) and can make or break a presidency.
The centerpiece of Trump’s campaign was returning the country to economic dominance. His unexpected victories in the Rust Belt states was an expression of hope by struggling blue collar workers that Trump could restore the heady days of 24-hour shifts at the local factory.
To them, “Make America Great Again” was more than a snappy slogan for tee-shirts and ball caps – it was a solemn promise from a presidential candidate that he understood their distress.
Trump has shown no inclination to ease off his itchy Twitter finger and his top staff has been unable to convince him to do so.
If he doesn’t change his habits, the Administration’s economic recovery and steady growth message will continue to be fragmented, muddied by pointless, juvenile arguments over matters which normally would disappear in a day.