Normative Narratives


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Debunking the “Trump is Better Suited to Lead the Economic Recovery” Myth

Donald Trump or Joe Biden, Who's Best for Dollar vs. Euro? - Bloomberg

There are a few worrying trends I see heading into the Presidential election. One is the lukewarm enthusiasm “progressives” seem to have for Joe Biden, which has subtext for undecided voters. But even more worrying is the idea that Donald Trump is somehow better suited than Biden to lead America’s economic recovery (although his lead on this issue does seem to be evaporating).

Look, I get it, long held conventional wisdom says Republicans are better at growing the economy, and that’s hard to overcome. But that conventional wisdom, if it was once true, has not held over the past few decades. There has been no Trump economic miracle. Trump inherited a strong economic recovery and supercharged it with a trillion dollar tax break to the wealthy and by rolling back environmental and labor protections, exacerbating inequalities that have long existed but the pandemic has brought to the forefront.

Only at the end of the longest economic expansion in American history did wages finally rise and minority unemployment and poverty rates fall. Historically “last hired, first fired” minority groups, and people of all races whose wages have stagnated while the costs of succeeding in the 21st century have grown, should not be celebrating that gains were finally starting to trickle down. Nor should they be content to wait till the end of the next economic expansion years from now for that to occur again. But ultimately that is all Trump is offering.

You’d think someone who botched the months of COVID prep time we had, and then botched the months of shutdowns we had, would at this point have some sort of plan figured out they could tout during their reelection bid. Even if Trump never planned on following through with that plan, and just wanted something to blame other people for, at least come up with SOMETHING.

But nope, there’s nothing. We all heard Trump during the debate, there was no substance, nothing other than division, lies, bullying and scapegoating. Nothing but blaming Clinton, Obama, Biden, China, “the radical left”, “socialism”, and whatever other boogeymen he could come up with.

Trump has no stimulus plan and no virus containment plan. Biden, on the other hand, has plans for days–I guess he’s been hanging out with Elizabeth Warren. These plans are projected to produce big economic benefits:

“When Moody’s ran this program [Biden’s] through their model, it concluded that by the end of 2024, real gross domestic product would be 4.5 percent higher than under a continuation of Trump’s policies, translating into an additional 7 million jobs. Goldman Sach’s estimates are similar: a 3.7 percent gain in G.D.P.”

Now Moody’s and Goldman are certainly not darlings of the left, but that’s all the more reason to take their projections of what has shaped up to be a very progressive platform seriously. They are not likely to overestimate the impacts of Biden’s spending policies or discount any growth lost by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

We are 10.7 million jobs below the pre-pandemic peak with a slowing recovery, we cannot afford to leave 7 million jobs on the table. You can tax cut and deregulate your way to more growth when the economy is already strong, as Trump did the first three years of his presidency, but that doesn’t work in the depths of a recession.

Then there are the other issues facing America, namely social immobility, racial injustice, and environmental degradation / climate change (the effects of which are borne most heavily on minority communities). Biden’s plans would not only deliver greater short-term growth, they would set us up for long-term growth that is more environmentally sustainable and socially cohesive.

Trump, on the other hand, can’t even explain what he wants to do in his second term. He repeatedly says the virus will simply “go away”, so no plan needed there. Months after his own Fed chief dismissed the idea, Trump still insists we are in a “V shaped recovery”, suggesting it will continue on it’s own. He says economic growth alone will health racial divides, even as he fear-mongers about more diverse suburbs (something that actually would help the issue). Trump regularly questions climate science and the role people play in climate change, and panders to the fossil fuel industry for political reasons; a second Trump term would lock in increasing emissions and and all but ensure America plays second fiddle to Europe in the emerging green economy.

I guess if you think everything is fine or will fix itself, you don’t need any plans. I think the vast majority of the American people would disagree with that view of the state of our union, and want a leader who will level with them and take action to fix things.


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Righteous Indignation Towards Trump Supporters is Self-Defeating

A lot of passionate, smart people I know are rightfully concerned about Trump’s impending presidency. I find the man’s words to be disgraceful and divisive, and his proposed policies (both at home and abroad) wrong-minded and regressive. It seems like the more issues one cares about, the more there is to be concerned about regarding Trump’s presidency.

I also want to make it abundantly clear that, on a personal level, I think that anyone who voted for “change” while overlooking these serious shortcomings made the wrong choice. But in America, any one person’s views are worth exactly one vote (kinda, RE: electoral college). Me, and the many people who share my views, lost in this election.

However, with every loss there is a lesson to be learned (and that lesson is not just that the electoral college, at least as it currently stands, is an outdated institution). There is a saying in economics that “all economics is local”. Quoting national unemployment and growth numbers in the face of people who feel they have been left behind is not only demeaning, it misses the very real point that many people are experiencing a different reality.

Part of what makes Bernie Sanders so popular is that he understands “populism” is inherently a good thing, even if it has been co-opted by bad actors in recent years. It is certainly not a concept liberals should allow ultra-conservatives to monopolize. In fact, it is much more congruent with the Democratic party’s ideology, should the party embrace it.

My point is not to try to change the strongly entrenched racist thoughts of the worst fringes of Trump’s supporters–these people truly are “deplorable”, and will never represent America or its values regardless of the outcome of any election. I have no interest in engaging these people–the G.O.P. can keep their votes. But I do know that not all Trump supporters are racist / sexist / bigoted. I know this not only because common sense tells me so, but also because I have known some Trump supporters for years, and I know they are not this way.

The difficulty lies in the fact that it is impossible to decipher between the true “deplorables” (yes, they do exist, get over it) and the economically disadvantaged, politically frustrated Trump supporters simply by looking at them. Therefore, the reasonable Trump supporters must be teased-out (no, not that tease, stay with me here) by creating a stronger, more inclusive Democratic party platform.

If you, like me, believe that a Trump presidency will likely be very damaging in a number of ways, the best way to limit that damage is have the Democrats retake Congress in two years. And that cannot be done without reaching out to some people who voted for Trump, and showing them that the Democratic party does represent them. 

This is an understandably frustrating lesson because rhetorically and policy-wise, the Democratic party already does represent the interests of the disadvantaged (including disadvantaged white people) much more so than the G.O.P. does. But in that frustration lies a silver-lining–the Democratic party does not need to engage in a wholesale ideological overhaul (something the G.O.P., regardless of the results of this election, ultimately does). Rather, the Democratic party needs a change in leadership and the way it conveys its message–a more manageable task that, if focused on, can be accomplished in time to impact the 2018 midterm elections.

This is not a message of unity for the sake of unity. It is a message of introspection in the name of political viability. To react to Trump’s election with righteous indignation towards his supporters, to dig further into the liberal “smarter-than-thou” mindset, only exacerbates the very divisions that enabled Trump’s rise to power in the first place. 

UPDATE (11/17):

The Democratic party is leveraging Bernie Sanders popularity and populist bend by making him outreach chair on the Senate Democrats leadership team. This is a good start!