OP-ED: Economy could be the issue that does in Trump
When the history of the Trump presidency is written, impeachment proceedings may be the least salient fact.
Economists are now speculating that Donald Trump may be the first U.S. president to start a recession because of his unrelenting trade wars.
Millions of Americans are not impacted yet, although that’s not true for farmers and manufacturing workers, but two new data pools indicate alarming news about Trump’s tariffs and his continuing trade battles with countries such as China.
World trade in goods is now expected to grow only 1.9% this year, down from the forecast estimate of 2.6 percent.
In addition, American manufacturing factories slowed output in September, the second straight month of decline.
Both are the most troubling declines since 2009, when the world was in full-blown recession, after the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, the closest we have come to a depression since the 1930s.
Economists say there are only two reasons for this: Trump’s trade wars and the economic slowdown and uncertainty caused by Brexit, Great Britain’s intent to leave the European Union, a development solidly embraced by Trump.
The stock market, Trump’s favorite measuring stick for the economy although most Americans do not own stock, immediately plummeted. But more concerning is that wages are stuck and manufacturers have stopped expanding.
Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he thinks the numbers show that manufacturing industries are nearing all-out recession. “It just shows how out of touch the president is,” he said after the latest figures were released.
For his part, Trump blames the worrisome economic data on the Federal Reserve Bank, drawing private guffaws and skeptical comments from economic experts. The nation’s central bank has dropped interest rates twice this year on grounds the global economy is weakening, but Trump said that is not enough to weaken the dollar. He blames the strong dollar for other nations’ refusal to buy more U.S. goods and services because they cost more.
Also contributing to uncertainty is that investors are wary of Brexit, fearing that the British prime minister’s determination to leave the European Union without a plan agreed upon by both sides will cause serious economic turbulence around the globe.
Instead of reassuring Americans that the trade wars are being resolved, to the benefit of the U.S., Trump has engaged in a barrage of outrage about impeachment, insisting that his telephone call asking Ukraine for political help against his rival Joe Biden was a “perfect” call, distorted by Democrats in Congress.
In answer to those who say Trump’s plea to Ukraine was unconstitutional, Trump said that Democrats leading the impeachment chant should be found guilty of treason. Trump does not seem to realize treason can occur legally only in time of a declared war.
The rationale for many Americans’ indifference to Trump’s continued presence in the White House is his insistence that the economy is the best it has ever been. That is true only because the population is the largest it has ever been and thus more people are working than ever before in America. But wages are not at their historic height, adjusted for inflation, and many families are above water only because they are working two or more jobs as well as overtime.
The tremors in the manufacturing sector, as well as the devastation that has befallen farmers because of the trade wars and bad weather, will make it more difficult for Trump to tout his mantra that the economy is soaring for all.
When all is said and done, Trump’s return to the White House in 2021 for four more years lies in his ability to keep consumer confidence high.
If Democrats focus mainly on impeachment, Trump will have an easier time of pooh-poohing them. He will insist that he is only talking about improving infrastructure, lowering prescription drug prices, getting rid of Obamacare (although with no serious alternative), passing some sort of gun control (mild though it may be) and restricting immigration (illegal though his preferred methods might be – shooting immigrants, filling moats with alligators, topping the barriers with sharp spikes).
After 32 months in office, Trump actually has done little of substance to help most Americans. His tariffs on $112 billion worth of Chinese imports and China’s retaliatory tariffs have made Americans’ take-home dollars stretch less far.
But Democrats have yet to show that they can walk the walk on impeachment and simultaneously chew down on the real work of the country.
— Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.