Midterm elections are, by nature, a referendum on the president, and that will certainly be true this coming Tuesday. While President Trump won’t be on the ballot, he will be on the minds of many when they head to the polls.
We have seen the extent to which the current president will go to stem potential political losses. His use of the vile language of hatred and bigotry, his fear-mongering, and his frequent lauding of the use of violence, have left most decent Americans disgusted and alarmed. Trump’s demagoguery is the kind normally associated with Third World dictators— certainly not the American president.
Even many of his supporters acknowledge that Trump acts like a bully and that he would do himself and this country a favor if he could just put down his Twitter finger. But even those supporters who acknowledge his immaturity and recklessness, defend him as the guy who was needed to fix what ailed the country.
They like Trump’s tough talk on putting America First. They like his imposition of tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum and his focus on America’s trade deficit. They like his tax cut and his push for deregulation, which they see as having juiced the economy.
We hear Trump’s rhetoric on the job he’s done. “A-plus all around,” as he likes to say, and his supporters nod their heads without really paying much attention to the details or the warning signs which are increasingly flashing yellow and red.
Trump isn’t shy about touting his successes, but his record is far more mixed than his supporters recognize, especially on the economy. Trump, unlike most presidents in recent memory, had the good fortune to inherit a strong economy. Most presidents take office with less than ideal economic conditions. Trump’s predecessor inherited an economy in total collapse. President Obama not only stemmed the fall, but quickly turned it around and presided over the longest uninterrupted period of economic expansion in the nation’s history. Or as Trump called it— “American carnage.”
Trump hasn’t yet blown up Obama’s economic legacy, but he’s working on it. Trump’s imposition of tariffs has left America’s agricultural sector reeling as trading partners retaliated by slowing imports of agricultural products, sending prices plummeting. Manufacturers, like Minnesota boat makers, are facing the prospect of lower profits and potential layoffs as Trump’s tariffs have increased the price of aluminum, the largest single component of most pleasure boats. Falling corporate profits as these higher costs ripple through the economy have hurt auto sales and helped fuel the recent dramatic losses on Wall Street.
And here’s the kicker: Trump’s tariffs have done absolutely nothing to reduce America’s trade deficit. That deficit was remarkably stable under President Obama, but under Trump, it’s risen steadily and is currently on pace to set an all-time record high in 2018. On one of his signature issues, Trump deserves a D-minus at best.
Trump’s tax cuts may have temporarily goosed the accelerator on the U.S. economy, but the hangover is already becoming apparent. Any competent economist would have told the president that juicing the already strong economy he inherited would speed the rise in interest rates, and rising interest rates are now slowing the housing market and other types of investment. New housing starts and sales have been dropping for months, as both higher interest rates and the rising cost of home construction (due to tariffs and labor shortages) discourage home buyers. That slowdown could have repercussions close to home. Without increased demand for home siding, the prospects for a new siding mill near Cook look more tenuous all the time.
Those rising interest rates have another troubling aspect— they’re pushing up the interest America pays on its debt, which has exploded under Trump due to his tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. President Obama inherited an economic disaster and a $1.4 trillion annual budget deficit. He got the economy back on track and sliced nearly a trillion dollars off the annual deficit, but Trump quickly reversed that progress.
Trump talked a good game about helping working people, but the effect of his policies are only increasing wealth inequality, slowing home-buying, weakening American manufacturing, and will leave future generations saddled with more debt. And whatever benefits we’ve seen to the economy are temporary.
Here’s our prediction: Trump will leave office with a higher deficit and a higher unemployment rate than he inherited from Barack Obama. And his toxic rhetoric will leave the country more divided than ever before. As you head to the polls on Tuesday, ask yourself if that’s really your definition of “making America great again.”