“Facts are stubborn things.” That quote is often attributed to Founding Father John Adams, and he did say it, but didn’t originate it, according to quoteinvestigator.com.
President Donald Trump disagrees. He clearly believes he can make facts play his tune, and get his base supporters to dance to it. He lies constantly and disregards inconvenient truths, especially any facts that make him look bad and most especially facts that might reflect well on his despised predecessor, Barack Obama.
Journalists are wedded to the importance of factual accuracy in a way that a compulsive liar/braggart like Trump either cannot imagine or thinks is for suckers. Dishonesty ranks high among the Trumpian traits that bother me, and the fact that his supporters either don’t know they are being lied to or don’t care is very hard for me to accept. But there it is.
The fact-checkers, whose work is more and more important for those who prefer facts over lies, police the line between fact and falsehood on a day-to-day basis, and do a great job. Today, my small contribution is to pass along a very good overview that reflects on one of Trump’s favorite overarching falsehoods. Namely:
‘Obama bad; Trump good’ is pretty much his analysis
Trump describes an America in which everything was going down the tubes under Obama, which is why we needed Trump to make America great again. And he claims that this project has come to fruition, with America setting records for prosperity under his leadership and guidance. “Obama bad; Trump good” is pretty much his analysis in all areas and measurement of U.S. activity, especially economically. Even if this were true, it would reflect poorly on Trump’s character, but it has the added problem of being false, a big lie made up of many small ones.
Personally, I don’t assume that all economic measurements directly reflect the leadership of whoever occupies the Oval Office, nor am I smart enough to figure out what causes what in the economy. But the idea that presidents get the credit or the blame for the economy during their tenure is a political fact of life. Trump, in his adorable, immodest mendacity, not only claims credit for everything good that happens in the economy, but tells people, literally and specifically, that they have to vote for him even if they hate him, because without his guidance, their 401(k) accounts “will go down the tubes.” That would be offensive even if it were true, but it is utterly false. The stock market has been on a 10-year run of steady gains that began in 2009, the year Barack Obama was inaugurated. But why would anyone care about that? It’s only an unarguable, stubborn fact.
Still, speaking of facts, there are so many measurements and indicators of how the economy is doing, that those not committed to an honest investigation can find evidence for whatever they want to believe. Trump and his most committed followers want to believe that everything was terrible under Barack Obama and great under Trump.
That’s baloney. Anyone who believes that believes something false. And a series of charts and graphs published Monday in the Washington Post and explained by Economics Correspondent Heather Long provides the data that tells the tale. The details are complicated. Click through to the link above and you’ll learn much. But the overview is pretty simply this:
The U.S. economy had a major meltdown in the last year of the George W. Bush presidency. Again, I’m not smart enough to know how much of this was Bush’s “fault.” But he had been in office for six years when the trouble started. So, if it’s ever reasonable to hold a president accountable for the performance of the economy, the timeline is bad for Bush. GDP growth went negative. Job growth fell sharply and then went negative. Median household income shrank. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 5,000 points! U.S. manufacturing output plunged, as did average home values, as did average hourly wages, as did measures of consumer confidence and most other indicators of economic health.
(Backup for that is contained in the Post piece I linked to above.)
Barack Obama inherited that mess of falling numbers, which continued during his first year in office, 2009, as he put in place policies designed to turn it around. By 2010, Obama’s second year, pretty much all of the negative numbers had turned positive. By the time Obama was up for reelection in 2012, all of them were headed in the right direction, which is certainly among the reasons voters gave him a second term by a solid (not landslide) margin.
Continued through second term
Basically, all of those good numbers continued throughout the second Obama term. The U.S. GDP, probably the single best measure of how the economy is doing, grew by 2.9 percent in 2015, which was Obama’s seventh year in office and was the best GDP growth number since before the crash of the late Bush years. GDP growth slowed to 1.6 percent in 2016, which may have been among the indicators that supported Trump’s campaign-year argument that everything was going to hell and only he could fix it.
During the first year of Trump, GDP growth grew to 2.4 percent, which is decent but not great and anyway, a reasonable person would acknowledge that — to the degree that economic performance is to the credit or blame of the president — the performance in the first year of a new president is a mixture of the old and new policies.
In Trump’s second year, 2018, the GDP grew 2.9 percent, equaling Obama’s best year, and so far in 2019, the growth rate has fallen to 2.1 percent, a mediocre number and a decline for which Trump presumably accepts no responsibility and blames either Nancy Pelosi, Ilhan Omar or, if he can swing it, Barack Obama.
I suppose it’s natural for a president to want to take credit for everything good that happens on his (or someday her) watch, but not the blame for anything bad. Trump is more blatant about this than most. If we judge by his bad but remarkably steady approval ratings (today, according to the average maintained by 538.com, it’s 41.9 approval/ 53.7 disapproval) the pretty-good economy is not winning him new supporters, nor is his constant exaggeration of his accomplishments costing him many old ones).
I already offered it above, but the full Washington Post workup of these numbers, and commentary/explanation by economics correspondent Heather Long, are here.
About that deficit
On a related matter, if you care about what used to be called fiscal conservatism, which is the belief that federal debt and deficit matter, here’s a New York Times analysis, based on Congressional Budget Office data, suggesting that the annual budget deficit (that’s the amount the government borrows every year reflecting that amount by which federal spending exceeds revenues) which fell steadily during the Obama years, from a peak of $1.4 trillion at the beginning of the Obama administration, to $585 billion in 2016 (Obama’s last year in office), will be back up to $960 billion this fiscal year, and back over $1 trillion in 2020. (Here’s the New York Times piece detailing those numbers.)
Trump is currently floating various tax cuts for the rich and the poor that will presumably worsen those projections, if passed. As the Times piece reported:
Rising deficit projections are the result of sluggish growth in federal revenue after Mr. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts went into effect, and several bipartisan agreements to raise military and nondefense domestic discretionary spending, which Mr. Trump signed into law… Typically, the budget deficit shrinks when unemployment is low. Mr. Trump’s administration has defied that trend.
I do wonder how much Trump’s supporters, who presumably consider themselves “conservatives,” including “fiscal conservatives,” know about these trends, and how much they care.