In spite of Trump, it’s morning in America again
Everyone saw something different in the spectacle of Washington last week, as Donald Trump celebrated Henry Kissinger’s return to Washington by staging scenes right out of Woodward & Bernstein’s fall-of-Nixon classic “The Final Days”: Cracking under pressure, firing FBI director James Comey, hints of a secret Oval Office taping system. Wrapped up by Melissa McCarthy riding a Segway made to look like a White House podium through Manhattan on Friday, as the president of the United States tweeted to Rosie O’Donnell.
Some saw the rise of authoritarianism.
I saw Morning in America, now on display for 115 days and counting.
I’m riffing here on President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election ad, in which the announcer points out that a record number of people have work, the drop in interest rates by half has prompted a pickup in housing markets, 6,500 people a day are getting married (presumably because they’re so confident in the future), and inflation is low.
Under Reagan, the ad says. America is prouder, stronger and better than before.
Don’t get excited, Mr. Trump. It’s happening now in spite of you.
We have 4.4% unemployment, lower than Reagan ever got it. Last Friday’s inflation report showed core inflation still under 2% a year; liberal economist Dean Baker points out that inflation excluding housing is below 1%. Housing prices are up about 6% in the last year. And in one of the last vestiges of 2008’s crisis receding, new household formation by homeowners is even up — more millennials are confident enough to leave Mom’s basement.
And pride? Strength? Here’s the strength Americans should be proud of.
The strength to take a tinhorn authoritarian’s best shot and continue the long, inexorable process of grinding Trump into dust.
Yes, he fired Comey, but within days his flimsy rationale fell apart under the onslaught of free speech (read, Twitter and Facebook) and a free press. Indeed, by the time NBC’s Lester Holt got to Trump Thursday, he was admitting he fired Comey to hinder the FBI’s investigation of whether Russia interfered with last year’s election. He didn’t like the investigation, Trump said.
But the push back against Trump hardly began last week.
It began, literally, the day after his Inauguration, sometime after George W. Bush’s reported assessment of Trump’s bizarre, pseudo-populist speech (“some weird shit”) and before Press Secretary Sean Spicer began his descent into laughingstockdom by ranting lies about Trump’s inaugural crowd, of which there were pictures.
It began with 3 million people turning out for Jan. 21 demonstrations to say they were having none of it. And that hasn’t changed: When Quinnipiac University pollsters asked Americans what was the first word they’d used to describe the President, the #1 answer released last week was “idiot.” The next two were “incompetent” and “liar.”
Here’s what has changed: Trump is beginning to lose his grip on non-college-educated whites, the supposed core of his support: They approve of his performance by a single net percentage point, down from 19 points in April, according to Quinnipiac.
Here’s another thing that hasn’t: The economy is exactly what Trump inherited, because he hasn’t made a lickspittle of economic policy. His tax-cut bill isn’t even written, though the 229-word outline the administration released suggests it will be a regressive giveaway to elites Trump vowed to protect non-college whites from.
The most-optimistic Republican guesses on when an Obamacare repeal might pass is mid-summer (assuming the Congressional Budget Office’s scores on the impact of the bills don’t continue to blow up GOP proposals on the launch pad; the first version failed because CBO said 24 million people would lose health insurance if it passed. Sometime next week, the CBO will release the score on the bill that did, finally, pass the House.).
Trump may not make any meaningful policy this year, even if he avoids FBI trouble.
Yet the economy is fine — because citizens, ignoring Trump as best they can, make it fine. Even if the president did tell The Economist last week that he invented the term “priming the pump,” a century-old term Franklin Roosevelt used to fight the Depression.
The monthly jobs gain since February averages about 174,000, down about 45,000 from the average month in the last three years under President Barack Obama. The stock market is no better than it was: Trump “forgets” Obama presided over a tripling of major indices. Josh Brown of Ritholtz Capital Management, who blogs at The Reformed Broker, points out that recent market gains are focused on anti-Trump trades like health care, international stocks and technology. It’s not a Trump rally now.
Newsflash: Trump didn’t invent the iPhone, which is driving tech indices.
If current polling be true (and we know about 2016), Trump’s House majority is in peril next year and he, himself, faces an uphill re-election fight. Yet, the people are building the expansion (and the bull market) as they have since 2009: Brick by brick, job by job. And they are protecting their handiwork — in the streets when necessary — from the vainglorious chump in the Oval Office.
It’s enough to make you happily question H.L. Mencken’s adage: Trump may go politically broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.