Donald Trump is a persistent liar. But some of his lies are bigger than others, and the biggest of them all is the one he repeated at the opening of this week’s Republican National Convention.
Over disembodied mumbles of “four more years,” the president served up a heaping helping of xenophobia and economic nonsense as he claimed that he was presiding over a “historic” economic recovery before the coronavirus pandemic messed everything up.
“We have to win. Our country is counting on it. This is the biggest, this is it,” Trump said of the race he’s been nominated to run against former vice president Joe Biden.
Our country can go in a horrible, horrible direction or in an even greater direction—and before the plague came in from China, that’s where we were going. We were going in a direction like we had never seen—the most successful economy in the history of our country, the best unemployment numbers in history, for African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, women, college students. Bad students, good students, everybody. If you had a diploma if you didn’t have a diploma, it didn’t matter—you were doing well, everybody was doing well.
“The most successful economy in the history of our country”? No. It wasn’t that before the pandemic, and it isn’t that now. Not even close.
Yet Trump is spreading the lie. And speaker after speaker at this convoluted sometimes in-person, sometimes virtual convention is amplifying it.
The big lie is so vital to the president’s reelection run that Larry Kudlow, the director of the United States National Economic Council, was dispatched to open the second night of the convention with false claims that Trump inherited a “stagnant economy” and that the “economy was rebuilt in three years.”
Why? Republicans have staked their political future on a plan to get Americans who are fed up with the president to vote for him anyway. At the heart of that plan is the fantasy that Trump is the essential man of American renewal—and the even bigger fantasy that the president who failed to respond effectively to the pandemic or to mass unemployment this year will somehow get it right next year.
What’s unfolding is a political Ponzi scheme. Inflated claims are being made about Trump’s economic “accomplishments” in order to persuade frightened and uncertain Americans to invest their votes in the scandal-plagued businessman’s reelection run.
If voters will just reelect the president, Trump and his willing co-conspirators claim, the payoff will come in the form of a booming economy.
“If you’re looking for hope,” chirped Donald Trump Jr. on Monday night, “look to the man who did what the failed Obama-Biden administration never could do and built the greatest economy our country has ever seen.”
“Who better to lead us out of these times than the president who already built the strongest economy our country has ever seen?” bubbled House majority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “Donald Trump did it before. Donald Trump will deliver for us again.”
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed that “the President is the clear choice on jobs and the economy.”
The truth is that Trump has never been the clear choice on jobs or the economy.
His economic track record is not a story of “historic” success. That’s been well documented, because, of course, the president’s current lie is one he has told before.
In February, just before the pandemic hit, Trump was busy claiming that he’d built a thriving economy. Multiple media outlets dinged him for rearranging the facts.
The Washington Post noted:
Trump inherited a thriving economy. By just about any important measure, the economy under Trump did not do as well as it did under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3% in 2019, slipping from 2.9% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5%, 4.5% and 4.7%, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison against the 1950s and 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4% to 6.6%. In 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7% and 8%, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5% under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5% in 1953.
The BBC explained that Trump wasn’t even doing as well as his political nemesis, former President Barack Obama. “For 2019, the data shows an annual average growth of 2.3%, ending the year at 2.1% for the fourth quarter. This is significantly less than the 5.5% peak achieved in the second quarter of 2014 during the Obama presidency. And if you go further back, there were times in the 1950s and 1960s when GDP growth was even higher.” Megan Black, an assistant professor of history at the London School of Economics, told the network, “If you choose to look at the health of the economy based on GDP, Mr. Trump’s claims are suspect when compared to the national economic boom of the post-War years.”
If you choose to look at other measures, these pro-Trump assertions prove to be equally false.
During the last three years of the Obama administration, 8.1 million jobs were created, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. During the first three years of the Trump administration, only 6.6 million jobs were created.
So Trump was underperforming even before the pandemic. After it hit, he mangled the US response so badly that, while other countries have been getting back on their feet, this one is struggling with a 10.2 percent unemployment rate—higher than the rate Obama wrestled with during the Great Recession. The rate has gone down from where it was in March and April when the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, but there are fears that it could spike anew this fall. There is also the reality that the pandemic and its economic consequences continue to hit Black and brown communities hardest—with ProPublica reporting just this week that “Black workers are more likely to be unemployed but less likely to get unemployment benefits.”
Trump and his backers don’t have anything to brag about. No matter where you look, to federal data, to financial analyses, to business journals, to the fact-checking industry—which has, admittedly, boomed under this president—Trump’s claims do not stand up. He’s not a master of the universe, unless your universe is the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump is cast as an economic superhero.
Don Jr. started the week by claiming that his father’s “policies have been like rocket fuel to the economy.” Kudlow announced that the economy, even with 30 million unemployed, is “roaring back.” And Vice President Mike Pence ambled in to proclaim, “We’ve revived this economy through cutting taxes.” Pence was lying. And it was a dangerous lie at that. According to Forbes, “Trump’s entire premise that the tax cuts are trickling down to families and sparking an economic boom is baseless. His tax cuts have not trickled down to workers, they’ve inflated deficits, and by doing so they have put programs like Social Security and Medicare more at risk. Another Trump tax cut would threaten these programs even more.”
The facts are not on this president’s side.
That is why the 2020 Republican National Convention has been framed around the big lie. And that is why Trump and his hirelings will keep telling the lie right through November 3.
What the Republicans are offering America is not a campaign. It’s a con job.