By Rex Nutting
No president can be given credit for all the good luck on his watch without having to take some of the blame for the bad luck as well. With the possible exception of Donald J. Trump.
Trump had the wonderful fortune to take office during a period of great economic stability. Job growth was strong, GDP growth was above potential, and inflation was low. Trump’s luck held for three years. The economy was good, but not great, as we shall see.
And then misfortune struck—the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump was faced with the first real test of his leadership and he failed. The U.S. response to the coronavirus has been among the worst in the world. Tens of thousands have died because Trump denied the most serious threat to public health in decades.
Trump says he created the greatest economy in history before the pandemic hit, but it’s just not so. Presidents don’t build economies, the American people do.
None of Trump’s policies transformed the U.S. economy in any long-lasting way. The tax cut gave the economy a brief jolt, and his trade wars have been a complete flop.
The economy is in awful shape right now, but Trump won’t acknowledge it. He and his supporters are touting the 10.6 million jobs that have been created since May, but they ignore the 20.5 million who want to work but can’t, the 7.5 million part-timers who want to work full time, and the 1.4 million who file for unemployment benefits each and every week.
Millions are suffering but the Trump campaign is too busy celebrating to hear. Trump has forgotten the words he spoke in his inaugural address: “I will fight for you with every breath in my body—and I will never, ever let you down.”
If you are sick, or out of work, or have lost your business or a loved one, Trump has let you down.
The celebrating is only going to get louder. We all know that on Oct. 29 he’ll be patting himself on the back for the huge quarter-on-quarter rebound (maybe an annualized 30%!) in gross domestic product that will be reported for the third quarter on that day, just five days before Election Day.
He won’t, however, mention that GDP is still far below where it was at the beginning of the year, before he botched the COVID-19 crisis, nor will he mention that large portions of the economy—including Trump’s own businesses—will never fully recover until the coronavirus is beaten back.
The pandemic exposed the rot in the U.S. economy for all to see. As has been the case for decades, those who have wealth or education or privilege are doing fine, for the most part. With a few exceptions, the pandemic has been nuisance, but not a catastrophe.
Not so for millions of their fellow Americans. Those who aren’t so lucky or privileged are scrambling to keep a roof over their heads, to put food on the table, to survive on the crumbs they get from unemployment, or to force themselves to physically go into their workplaces, hoping they won’t get sick or infect their customers, co-workers, friends and family.
The recovery isn’t V-shaped, or L-shaped, but K-shaped, with half of the country doing well and the other half falling. The stock market /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.80% has hit record highs while millions of people are unemployed with few prospects. Home sales are soaring while millions cannot pay their rent, or afford food . Millions have lost their health insurance amid a great public health crisis.
For half of America, the economy is still terrible.
Trump and the Republican Party have turned their backs on those who are hurting, because to acknowledge their plight would be to admit that Trump has been lying all along about how the coronavirus would just disappear.
We need to ask ourselves what we mean when we say the economy is great. My answer is that a great economy must work for everyone. It isn’t enough that billionaires are richer than ever.
The greatest economy in history ought to be better than what we’ve settled for. It ought to deliver the things that matter to people: A sense of security and opportunity, access to good education and good health care and a healthy environment. By this standard, our economy isn’t the best, not even close. The U.S. has fallen to 28th place in the world on these quality-of-life metrics.