Alan Zendell, December 26, 2019
Rather than rely on my subjective memory, I’ve been documenting some important things in detail. I noted after Donald Trump was inaugurated that people who were optimistic about his presidency talked mostly about North Korea, Iran, and the Middle East. No one I knew talked about the economy, because lest we forget, the Obama administration had done an excellent job of creating conditions that would enable a slow but enduring recovery from the economic crisis it inherited from its predecessor.
Today, the economy is the only thing people who remain positive about Trump talk about. Our economy is doing well – not as well as Trump claims it is, but better than most of the world’s. At its core, it continued to build on the foundation Obama’s people implemented. There are more jobs, fewer people unemployed, and near-record stock prices.
Regardless of what political spinners want us to believe, equity markets rose because despite all the tough rhetoric, companies continue to do most of their manufacturing and processing offshore where labor is cheaper, and Trump and the Republican Senate traded our grandchildren’s economic prosperity for a huge tax windfall to corporate billionaires. I don’t mean to sound like Bernie Sanders, but in that regard he’s correct.
Not everyone benefited from the 2017 tax law. Wage growth among average workers lags badly, and the skyrocketing cost of health care and prescription drugs wipes out the savings many people thought they would see from lower tax rates. Millions of reasonably well off middle class people were clobbered with the cap on the amount of state and local taxes they could deduct from their federal taxes, and nothing was done to relieve the unanticipated impact of the Alternative Minimum Tax on middle class incomes. 401-K accounts are up, but they’d better be, because the cost of retirement is going through the roof.
Back to what Trump supporters talked about in 2017, let’s take North Korea first, since it was the subject most Americans were anxious about back then. After summit meetings, love letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un, and terrifying brinksmanship over nuclear missiles (remember the panic in Hawaii when Civil Defense authorities thought NK missiles were headed there?) where are we? Our relationship with South Korea has deteriorated, and today, former National Security Advisor John Bolton told Axios, “We’re now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons.”
Our withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal set that nation back on the path to developing nuclear weapons of its own. Our European allies who were signatories to the deal are left hanging and powerless, and Iran has shown itself willing to suffer our economic sanctions to pursue its goals. Among the information that constantly leaks from this administration is the growing fear among military leaders that Trump will use escalating danger from Iran to spark armed conflict if he thinks his re-election is in doubt. There’s nothing like a nice hot war to make voters nervous about change.
The Middle East? With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unable to form a new government under indictment for corruption and bribery, it’s clear that his hawkish attitude toward Palestinians and the rest of the Arab Middle East no longer has majority support at home. It’s even clearer that Jared Kushner, who Trump appointed to fix the Middle East has accomplished nothing, though the president didn’t help matters by making contradictory statements about the often discussed Two State Solution.
Not only have we backslid in all our major foreign policy initiatives since Trump took office, we seriously undercut international attempts to alleviate the effects of climate change, and despite all the fakery, rust belt workers are no better off now than in 2016. Trump’s highly touted promises to restore our domestic steel and coal industries have gone nowhere.
As we enter what may be the most critical election cycle of our lives, voters need to look closely at their own personal journeys during the Trump years. Ronald Reagan used to ask voters if they were better off than they were four years ago. It’s more complicated for us because we’re dealing with an administration that runs on lies and “alternative facts.” Remember that it was Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to Trump who coined that phrase with a completely straight face.
Please, take the time to reflect on your own truths, not Trump’s, Fox News’s, or CNN’s. Remember where you were three years ago and where you might have been today if the outcome of the 2016 election had been different. Then go out and vote.