President Trump held a pep rally for himself on Twitter earlier this week, touting his base as “bigger and stronger than ever before” despite all the “fake news” – into which category he put virtually every media source except his dedicated propaganda networks, Breitbart and FOX. Trump then listed some of his successes so far, including economic enthusiasm, the stock market, jobs, and deregulation. As usual with Trump, he is wrong in more ways than are easily counted.
Assuming that by “base” Trump meant non-college-educated whites, it has actually dwindled by as much as a third – down from 66 percent who voted for him in November to 43 percent now, according to Quinnipiac. Part of the reason for the dip may be that he has yet to do anything productive for this group, or the working class in general. To the extent that the economic outlook under Trump is good, it primarily benefits the wealthy, and that recovery started long before he took office.
When those trend lines began under President Obama, Trump was not so enthusiastic about them. Between 2012 and 2016, Trump said, “Not a real recovery, phony numbers”; “Nobody has jobs… It is not a real economy. It is a phony set of numbers. They cooked the books”; and, even after his election, “The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction.” He was just as hard on stock market success, declaring it a “big, fat, ugly bubble.”
Now that he’s president, Trump wants credit for the exact same dubious unemployment numbers and stock market successes he previously criticized. His earlier, more cynical readings of economic figures were part of what endeared him to segments of the working class. On paper, the economy has been improving for years. But it’s hard to believe that’s so when wages are stagnant and millions of Americans struggle to pay for housing, healthcare, education, and childcare.
As a candidate, Trump accused Wall Street of getting away with murder and vowed to increase taxes on them. As president, he has practically merged his White House with Goldman Sachs. As Trump’s team works vigorously to deregulate industry across the board, Wall Street has been one of the biggest beneficiaries. Regulators working under the new federal government have assessed only about a third of the penalties to Wall Street that they did in 2016.
Secure in the knowledge that Trump, himself a flagrant fraudster, will look the other way on malfeasance, Wall Street has surged. But those gains have virtually nothing to do with ordinary Americans. About half of Americans own stock in some form, including in retirement plans, but 81 percent of the market is owned by 10 percent of shareholders. Stock market inequality closely mirrors inequalities in wealth and income. Trump’s bull market overwhelmingly benefits the financial elites he built his campaign on vilifying.
Working Americans, on the other hand, have seen no meaningful gains. Jobs are still being added – another trend begun by Trump’s predecessor – but hiring is slowing down. Shortly after the election Trump famously announced he had saved a Carrier factory in Indiana; more than 600 of those workers are now set to be laid off. And in perhaps his most out of touch statement yet, Trump recently told Americans who can’t find jobs to simply move, saying, “Don’t worry about your house… you can leave.”
Wages for low-income Americans have been going up, but no thanks to the ruling party. Activists and labor organizers fought for wage hikes in cities across the country, and those efforts have been vigorously opposed by Republican legislatures. Trump himself once said the minimum wage was “too high” and opposed raising it, and his flip on the issue hasn’t been reflected in policy.
Benefits may be even harder to come by than good wages. Americans work longer hours, more productively, and with less time off than other nations. Compared with European nations, America is the least generous about providing vacation time, unemployment benefits, and sick leave. We are dead last on the planet when it comes to guaranteeing maternity and paternity leave. A third of Americans have no money saved for retirement, and many of those who have saved haven’t saved enough to escape poverty.
This is not the picture of an economy that’s doing well and working for its people. Americans don’t need deregulation and a booming stock market. They need decent, dignified, well-paying jobs with benefits. They need universal healthcare, Social Security, and government protections for parental and sick leave. Unless real improvements are made on these fronts, no amount of Trump’s propaganda will prevent working Americans from seeking political alternatives. Even his diehard supporters can’t retire or feed their kids on his tweeted bullshit.