Truth, Trump and economy
Guest column

Truth, Trump and economy

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The State of the Union (SOTU) speech was less a report to the nation than a well-produced reality show and well-staged campaign rally. But what really offends is that most of the substance Trump advanced was not true. Unsurprisingly, the President who has spit out more than 16,000 false or misleading claims in his first three years, played fast and loose with the facts.

Misstatements about the economy were particularly bothersome. I awakened the next morning to the headline: “Trump extols US economy.” Stories focused on Trump’s oft-repeated theme that he has brought us “the greatest [economy] in the history of our country.” Sorry to rain on your parade, Mr. President, but that just isn’t so. And if this rains on the parade of Trump supporters, welcome to the world of facts. Our economy is doing just fine on many fronts, but the source is not tariff master Trump.

After nearly 27 years in economic development, economic information is in my wheelhouse. Elected officials often tout their accomplishments and once in a while even “spin” their claims a little. We can live with that, but, unlike Trump, normal elected leaders root their claims in reality, facts and truth. For example, the “Economic Report Card” I regularly produced at Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s Office of Economic Development featured actual Top 10 rankings for Montana from a myriad of established and credible external sources. Nothing made up.

But President Trump’s assertions seem to be cut from whole cloth as he describes everything for which he wants credit as “best” or “greatest” or “perfect.” Perhaps that’s acceptable in Trump-world where a presidential advisor once claimed that false statements were “alternative facts.” However, I adhere to the view of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

So, after 16,000 falsehoods, let’s fact-check some of Trump’s economic claims, starting with his main assertion: that he “inherited a mess,” which he turned into the “single greatest comeback that we’ve ever had.”

The reality is that Trump inherited economic momentum from Obama, not an economic mess. You want a mess? Obama truly inherited an economic mess, “the great recession, the most severe economic recession since the 1930s depression. Obama’s policies helped us turn the corner and we entered an indisputable record 11-year expansion. The nearly eight year expansion under Obama has continued under Trump, but let’s not pretend Trump started it.

Let’s check out some specific facts about Trump’s “greatest ever” performance relative to our generally good economy.

• The annual growth rate, Gross Domestic Product, under Trump (2.5%), falls way below those of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton, is only a tenth of one percent above President Obama’s (2.5% to 2.4%), and below the post-World War II average of 2.9%.

• Job growth under Trump in his first 35 months — 182,000 jobs growth per month average — is good, but below the average of 224,000 jobs per month under President Obama over his last 35 months.

• The unemployment rate under Trump has gone down from 4.7% to 3.5%, but under Obama it was cut by more than half, from 10% to 4.7%. Trump’s start was very near the Federal Reserve’s “natural rate of unemployment” thanks to President Obama.

• Trump’s “great” wage growth is eight-tenths of a percent annually, adjusted for inflation — well below the 1.3% wage growth rate under Obama. After considering benefits, Trump’s SOTU claim of a “blue-collar boom” is really a “blue-collar bust.”

Trump’s real statistics show his economic performance is far from the “greatest ever.” As he instinctively and unnecessarily lies, we are reminded of what Aesop said: “A liar will not be believed even when he speaks the truth.”

Truth does not come easily to President Trump. He’s been putting the big lie theory into practice here in America. Joseph Goebbels described it well: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

So, we’d all do well to listen to Trump with skepticism, anchor our thinking in the facts and not fall for the repeated “big lie” that is the modus operandi of the President.

Evan Barrett lives in historic Uptown Butte after retiring following 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education. He is an award-winning producer of Montana history videos who continues to write columns and commentaries and occasionally teaches Montana history.

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