Did Donald Trump just say that he’s hoping for an economic crash? Not exactly. But what he did say was arguably even worse, especially once you put it in context.
And Trump’s evident panic over recent good economic news deepens what is, for me, the biggest conundrum of American politics: Why have so many people joined — and stayed in — a personality cult built around a man who poses an existential threat to our nation’s democracy and is also personally a complete blowhard?
So what did Trump actually say on Monday? Strictly speaking, he didn’t call for a crash, he predicted one, positing that the economy is running on “fumes” — and that he hopes the inevitable crash will happen this year, “because I don’t want to be Herbert Hoover.”
If you think about it, this isn’t at all what a man who believes himself to be a brilliant economic manager and supposedly cares about the nation’s welfare should say. What he should have said instead is something like this: My opponent’s policies have set us on the path to disaster, but I hope the disaster doesn’t come until I’m in office — because I don’t want the American people to suffer unnecessarily, and, because I’m a very stable genius, I alone can fix it.
But no, Trump says he wants the disaster to happen on someone else’s watch, specifically and openly so that he won’t have to bear the responsibility.
Speaking of which, when did Trump start predicting economic disaster under President Biden? The answer is before the 2020 election. In October 2020, for example, he asserted that a Biden win would “unleash an economic disaster of epic proportions.”
Now, everyone who makes economic predictions gets some of them wrong. I personally predicted a recession if Trump won in 2016, partly because markets seemed to believe that a Trump victory would be bad for the economy. But I retracted that call just three days after the election, acknowledging that I had briefly succumbed to motivated reasoning.
Trump, by contrast, has been predicting disaster under Biden for more than three years, without ever admitting that his predictions haven’t come true. What we’ve gotten from Trump instead is a series of desperate false claims about the state of the economy. No, the price of bacon isn’t “up five times” under Biden.
Some of these false claims fall into the category of: Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? Last month, for example, Trump declared that gas costs “$5, $6, $7 and even $8 a gallon,” when there are big signs all around the country advertising gas prices a bit over $3.
Maybe he doesn’t get out much.
What Trump surely does do, though, is watch a lot of TV, which means that he’s aware that the stock market has gone up a lot lately. This clearly troubles him. Indeed, he’s apparently so rattled by stock gains under Biden that in a recent speech he managed both to dismiss those gains as irrelevant — just “making rich people richer” — and to claim credit for them: “The stock market is good because a lot of people think we’re going to win the election.”
If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Here we have a guy who spent much of his time in office bragging about a rising stock market suddenly declaring that stock gains are bad when someone else is in power, while insisting that he deserves credit for good things (or are they bad things?) that happen when he isn’t even running the country.
Does this matter? Trump may want an economic crash, but he doesn’t have any tools I’m aware of that could produce one. But as I wrote the other day, there’s a risk that pressure from Trump and his allies will lead the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates too high for too long.
Practical concerns aside, however, Trump’s flailing on the economy and the stock market deepens the mystery of his political appeal.
I hate saying this, but I do understand why millions of people are drawn to Trump’s dictatorial ambitions, his encouragement of violence, his declarations that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” The sad truth is that there have always been many Americans who fundamentally don’t believe in America’s democratic ideals.
But I find it puzzling that Trump doesn’t pay more of a political price for his boasting, whining and transparently self-serving lies.
MAGA types tend to idealize the 1950s, largely based on a delusional image of what life was really like at the time. It was especially terrible if you weren’t a white male, but things could be pretty bad even if you were. One thing the ’50s did have, however, was an image of how men were supposed to behave, one that emphasized stoicism, honesty and a willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions — what my parents would have called being a mensch.
Trump is as far from being a mensch as is humanly possible. Yet his supporters either don’t see that or don’t care, which seems to me to be a bigger departure from traditional values than all the wokeness in the world.
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