In President Trump’s State of the Union address we saw a brilliant display of rhetorical sleight of hand on the economy. The successful misdirection was enabled by the corporate news media, which consistently maintains that the one thing Trump should be claiming credit for is his stellar performance growing the economy.
This story first appeared on Salon.
What was ignored was how it has also grown increasingly more unequal and tilted to the rich since he took office, as the country sinks deeper and deeper into a miasma of long term multi-trillion dollar debt.
In the critical commentary that followed the SOTU, the only quibbling on Trump’s assessment of the nation’s economy was that he had failed to credit his predecessor, President Obama, for getting things headed in the right direction.
For those assembled in the House chamber, and those watching at home, Trump waved the shiny object of “an economic miracle . . . taking place in the United States . . . an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before.”
So, despite our life expectancy declining for the last three years, one of the highest childhood poverty rates among the 36 member nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the most expensive and least effective health care system among western developed nations, Trump would have us believe we are the envy of the world.
And, with the TV cut away shots of the assembled men and women of Congress and the decorated generals all nodding their heads, and occasionally applauding, there was legitimacy conferred on one man’s delusion that the United States is the fastest growing economy in the world and that he is the key accelerant.
As Richard Wolff, professor of economics at the New School, pointed out, Trump’s assertion of U.S. global economic preeminence ignores the reality that for many years now China has been growing exponentially faster than the United States. The U.S. has struggled mightily to expand at all, even as the richest got an increasingly larger share of the nation’s wealth.
Hmm, could there be a connection between our increasingly extreme wealth concentration and sluggish broad-based economic growth?
“Over the last twenty years the U.S. has had a hard time achieving economic growth . . . and even though it is averaging two-and-a-half to three percent, part of the time . . . to say that it’s the best in the world, that’s just a lie,” Wolff says. “Let me give you just one example, the People’s Republic of China. They’re having a bad year . . . ready . . . six-and-a-half percent, which is lower than they have been able to do for most of the last 15 to 20 years.”
And what, you might wonder, were wages doing for workers all that time of major growth in China? “The real wages of Chinese workers, the average amount of money they got adjusted for inflation, has quadrupled in the last 12 to 15 years,” says Wolff. “What happened to the average wage in America, adjusted for inflation? It hardly budged. It went up single digits, not three to four times.”
What made Trump’s magic SOTU misdirection so complete was how, right after he waved the glittery miracle of faux American prosperity in the air, he conjured up the raping and pillaging hordes of blood sucking illegals that are coming over the southern border in waves that threaten to take it all away.
Wolff points out, that while Trump cast undocumented immigrants as the only shadow on American greatness, he didn’t mention one word about the nation’s growing wealth and income inequality which “is the starkest feature of American economic life in the last 40 years.”
Of course, it is in the interest of the builders of the great American wealth pyramid, to continue to breathe life into this Trumpian delusion that the American economy is working and working well, ignoring the very real socio-economic deterioration that has now manifested after decades of depressed and anemic wages.
And the degree to which there is a collective media buy-in that things are great and improving, the longer it will take for us to fully embrace the radical steps needed to get this country really working for all of America’s families.
This never-ending squeezing of Americans who have to work every day to make a living, has now mushroomed into a full- blown affordability crisis that has tens of millions of working- class American households struggling every month to cover the basics. We had ample evidence of this during Trump’s 35-day government shutdown when furloughed Federal workers had to wait on soup lines.
Trump didn’t mention them either.