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Obama and Trump on the economy: a comparison

I rely on an NBC graphic, which compares the performance of the U.S. economy  during the first three years of Trump’s term with the second term of Obama.

Former President Barack Obama speaking from Philadelphia on Wednesday night by video feed during the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention.
2020 Democratic National Convention/Pool via REUTERS
Former President Barack Obama speaking from Philadelphia last Wednesday night by video feed during the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Everything was terrible under Barack Obama and everything has been great under Donald Trump (or was until China attacked us with a virus), at least according to Donald Trump.

Many assume that Trump’s antipathy toward Obama (which goes way back to Trump’s promotion of the birtherism nonsense, staring in 2011, long before Trump was a presidential candidate) is rooted in racism. I don’t claim to know, but I share the suspicion that jealousy and egomania also play into it.

But Trump has unrelentingly criticized Obama. Even his famous slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was rooted in the idea that things were notably un-great under Obama, including in matters of the economy. Trump claimed to know how to make the economy great, and, by gross measures, leaving aside the question of how well the prosperity was distributed, the U.S. economy put up good numbers under Trump until the onset of what he adorably calls the “China Virus.”

Leaving aside (for the moment) how Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID epidemic has hurt the economy, I would like to shed some light on Trump’s claim that everything was bad in the economy under Obama and everything is (or was, pre-COVID) good under Trump.

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I rely on an NBC graphic, which compares the performance of the U.S. economy  during the first three years of Trump’s term (this, reasonably, but also generously, factors out the economic difficulties of the COVID era), with the second term of Obama.

Obama’s second term, of course, built on the accomplishments of his first. He inherited an economy that, based on GDP growth, had declined catastrophically in the last years of his predecessor. It grew dramatically during his second year in office, 2010 (5.1 percent growth, the best figures since 1983, and a bigger growth number by five or six times than the best year of Trump’s presidency, and that great growth number isn’t even included in the data I’m about to give you).

So Obama started his second term with an economy that was already growing during his first, and it kept growing, every year of his second term.

Just because Trump likes to disparage everything that happened under Obama, and exaggerate every positive development during his own scandal-plagued tenure, I’ll pass along some numbers that NBC published on the comparison of economic performance during Obama’s second term, and the first three years of Trump’s tenure, before the virus (and Trump’s mishandling of it) did so much damage.

Quarterly GDP growth, average per year, during Obama’s second term: 2.4%

Quarterly GDP growth, average per year, during Trump’s first three years (this does him the favor of ignoring the negative growth of 2020): 2.5%.

New jobs created per month, average for Obama’s second term: 215,000.

New jobs per month, average for the first three years of Trump’s term: 182,000.

Increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during Obama’s second term: 38 percent.

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Increase during Trump’s first three years: 56%.

Of course, the Dow had a major crash in 2020. It has bounced back, although not all the way. But, in an absurd excess of fairness to Trump, I am not including any 2020 numbers in these comparisons, nor did NBC, from which I borrowed them. You can see them at NBC.com here.