Clarence Fanto: With Trump, it's tough to accentuate the positive
LENOX — An official in one of the towns I cover asked me to come up with one good thing President Donald Trump has done. Just one thing.
But, that was six months ago, and I've failed to come up with a single positive.
So, this past week, feeling guilty, I decided to try even harder. The result: One thing, but with a big maybe. The economy.
Sure, the stock market is in supersonic boom territory, and that's a plus for the 55 percent of Americans who own shares individually, through mutual funds or in retirement savings accounts, according to a recent Gallup survey.
Then, there's the unemployment rate at 3.5 percent, remaining at a 50-year low, corporate profits are strong and the annual rate of economic growth, at 2.2 percent, is decent, though far from the extravagant 3 to 4 percent range predicted by Trump and his advisers.
Gallup's Economic Confidence Index is at its highest level in 20 years, with 62 percent of Americans saying the economy is "excellent" or "good" and only 8 percent describing it as "poor."
Underscoring the positive attitude about the economy, only 10 percent of those surveyed by Gallup think it's the nation's greatest problem — a near-record low.
"This greater confidence could serve as a boost to the reelection prospects of President Trump," the just-published poll concluded.
So, why the maybe? Why not a ringing endorsement of the soon-to-be-exonerated president, based on the strength of the economy?
Here are a few of the reasons:
- The current president inherited a strengthening job market and rising stock market from President Barack Obama, who saved the country from a Great Recession that could have turned into a 21st-century Great Depression.
- At least 40 percent of the new jobs created since 2016 are in the low-paying service sector, including retail (which is shrinking rapidly), social services, the hospitality industry and home health care.
- Wage growth has been relatively anemic, and most Americans are earning not much more than they did 30 or 40 years ago, taking inflation into account. The current annual increase, adjusted for inflation, is about 1.7 percent.
- Inequality remains at record levels. Only 61 percent of Americans could come up with $400 in cash to cover an emergency expense, according to a Federal Reserve analysis. The rest would have to borrow from friends or family, or tap into their credit cards, if not maxed out.
- Trump's trade war, though it's de-escalating, has caused manufacturers, their employees and farmers to struggle, and the damage may spread to other sectors of the economy. Manufacturing, though it represents a small portion of the U.S. economy, is in a mild but worsening recession, railroads and trucking companies are jettisoning jobs and the preliminary trade deal with China is keeping most tariffs in place, much to the dismay of farmers.
The "blue-collar boom" touted by Trump at the Davos, Switzerland, economic conference this past week is a mirage.
- Although American women now hold a slight majority of all payroll jobs, that puts men in the working class at a disadvantage while maintaining underpaid, undervalued employment sectors dominated by women. The gender pay gap persists as women represent 84 percent of social services workers (including child care and early education) and 78 percent of health care (nurse practitioners and home health aides, for example), lower-paying fields.
- About 13 million Americans work two jobs, and while that's just 8 percent of the total employed population, multiple-wage earners are concentrated in primarily rural areas such as the Berkshires, where seasonal work is common.
- The nation's annual budget deficit exceeded $1 trillion in 2019, and Trump has added $2.6 trillion to the national debt in just three years. Republicans used to abhor budget red ink. Trump recently told wealthy donors during a private dinner at Mar-a-Lago: "Who the hell cares about the budget? We're going to have a country."
For the worthy town official who has probably forgotten about his challenge for me to come up with one positive thing about the current occupant, I'll grant a passing grade on the economy, though certainly nowhere near an "A."
But, even conceding that the economy is a modestly bright spot for Trump, the rest of his record is beyond bleak. The juggernaut appointment of conservative judges, the systematic dismantling of environmental protections, the brutal treatment of immigrants and the tarnishing of America's image around the world make it hard to give much weight to economic gains.
Moreover, now that articulate members of the House have presented evidence of abuse of power and other high crimes, I'm inclined to ask my friend, the town official: Can you come up with one reason why Trump shouldn't be removed from office?
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.
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