This week’s stock market antics and the occurrence of an inverted yield curve have provided compelling evidence portending another economic recession.
These economic indicators, in addition to spurring stock sell-offs and turbulent market volatility, also sparked a firestorm of debate and commentary regarding how a potential recession would impact Trump’s 2020 re-election bid.
The word on the street, from such sources as The Washington Post and ABC News, is that Trump himself and his administration are fretting over the prospect of a recession and the threat it poses to his re-election, banking on a strong economy as their key platform.
And the media pundits, of course, are out in full force, prematurely anticipating a recession and signaling the doom of Trump’s 2020 bid.
The narrative born from this past week’s hubbub is not just that a recession will hurt Trump but also, implicitly, that if a recession is avoided, Trump will be in a position to base his re-election bid on the performance of the economy and his handling of it, as if this economy has in fact been a success in terms of making the majority of Americans’ lives better.
As I’ve written about repeatedly in the pages of PoliticusUsa (here and here and here, for example), Trump’s policies have inflicted severe damage on the economy and, by extension, the lives of many Americans.
That the media continues to buy into the narrative of a successful Trump economy thus far, even if it is threatened by recession, paints an erroneous picture that is politically dangerous for Democrats and which they must resist.
Instead of criticizing the Trump economy for the potential failures looming on the horizon, which may in fact never come to pass, Democrats would be better served to highlight and explain how this current economy, touted by Trump as a seeming success, has in fact failed masses of Americans.
Here are just a few talking points:
*Take his tax cuts, which we know benefited the wealthy and did not trickle down, despite Trump’s promises that companies would invest in workers and not cut jobs. Companies like AT&T, Wells Fargo, and General Motors lobbied for them, promising to re-invest their tax savings in their workers and companies to the benefit off the nation as a whole. And yet all of these companies have engaged in massive layoffs or plant closings. AT&T has eliminated over 23,000 jobs since the tax cuts went into effect, despite receiving a $21 billion windfall from the tax cuts with the prospect of cashing in an additional $3 billion annually in tax savings. In November 2018, GM announced it would be closing five plants, eliminating 14,000 jobs in communities across Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, while buying back $10 billion in stock and earning a net profit of $8 billion on which the company paid no federal tax. Wells Fargo did raise the minimum wage of its employees, though the tax savings for the company were 47 times larger than the cost of that pay raise to the company; and the company announced its plans in September 2018 to eliminate 26,000 jobs, at the same time that it has raised health insurance costs for its employees.
*And what about healthcare, a huge economic issue for Americans? Has Trump created policies to secure affordable healthcare for Americans?
Since Trump took office, according to the Congressional Budget Office, over one million Americans have lost health insurance. Additionally, a recent study from the American Cancer Society reveals that 56% of American adults, about 137 million, have experienced serious financial struggle, even if insured, because of high deductibles and otherwise skyrocketing healthcare costs.
The Commonwealth Fund reports that 44 million people are under-insured, which means they often forego necessary care because of costs.
What is the Trump administration to address this major economic hurdle to health and well-being for millions of Americans?
Well, last May 1 while Congress held hearings exploring the possibilities of Medicare For All, the Department of Justice, under the direction of embattled Attorney General William Barr, was busy in court suing to abolish the Affordable Care Act in its totality. If Barr and Trump prevail in this suit, millions of Americans will lose the health insurance they currently have, including 52 million who have pre-existing conditions. Trump and Republicans have presented no alternative healthcare plan, despite promises.
*And what about those tariffs that are supposed to benefit the American economy and bring prosperity?
Trump’s tariffs are devastating American farmers. The trade wars Trump has instigated has not only led to the lowest incomes American farmers have experienced in years but also caused a record number of bankruptcies for Midwest dairy farms. Over the past two years 1,200 dairy farms have stopped producing milk and another 212 have simply disappeared.
Trump’s tariffs have been extraordinarily harmful to the U.S. steel industry as well.
One could go on and on about the ways Trump’s handling of the economy has failed Americans. When we look at the water crisis in Newark, where we see a re-play of the Flint, Michigan fiasco, where an inadequate infrastructure created a situation where lead polluted the city’s drinking water, we can see that the trillion dollars given to the wealthiest through his tax cuts, Trump could have actually invested in infrastructure, a key element of a successful economy and healthy environment for people.
But just as he has ignored infrastructure, he has also ignored the looming economic costs of climate change, and his failure to address climate change will harm Americans going forward.
With all of these evident failures, even disasters, in Trump’s management of the economy, Democrats must avoid this narrative that Trump has somehow created a successful economy that Democrats will ruin with socialist policies.
Instead, they need precisely to run on economic issues, explaining to the American people precisely how Trump has in fact presided over an economy that has failed them.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.