Defending insurrectionist disgrace Donald Trump in his final days inherently requires deceit. One must lie about the January 6 insurrection, saying it was “antifa” and not Trump’s own supporters acting on his direction. One must lie about impeachment, saying that Democrats are dividing the country by seeking to hold Trump accountable and prevent him from abusing office again rather than acknowledging the moral culpability of the criminal impeached and admitting that the division one really fears is internal party discord in the 2022 GOP primary.
Even the arguably least morally deplorable defense, the effort to pivot toward a discussion of the policy achievements made before Trump quit doing his job, requires the fundamental lie that Trump actually achieved anything positive that outweighs the damage he has done. It’s not just that his achievements are small; it’s that many of them are fictions.
Take, for instance, Trump’s signature trade war with China. John Tsitrian notes that Trump’s long assault on China is ending in total defeat for Trump:
China’s trade surplus last month was $78 billion, which took its overall surplus for 2020 to a record $535 billion, up 27% over the year before.
In the head-to-head match-up with the United States, Beijing clobbered us in raw numbers. As I and a jillion other economists have fruitlessly noted in recent years, trade surplus/deficit numbers are poor barometers of economic well being, but going by those numbers, so dear to Donald Trump, the outgoing prez and his gullible followers have reason to be chagrined. The U.S. trade deficit with China last year was $317 billion, a 7% increase over 2019 and the second highest on record.
This comes in the aftermath of Trump’s famously uninformed utterance on twitter (sorry, it’s no longer findable due to the suspension of the president’s account, but I’m pretty sure most of us remember it) that “trade wars are good and easy to win.” The tariffs he subsequently imposed on nearly $400 billion worth of Chinese exports to the United States accomplished squat in terms of re-balancing our trade accounts with China and only ended up costing American importers and consumers money because Americans had to pay the tariffs – a reality that Trump never seemed to get.
What’s more, the trade wars took a serious toll on America’s GDP (gross domestic product, aka the overall economy). Pre-pandemic, the price was high, the growth loss in 2019 costing GDP anywhere from -.3% to -.7% according to a wide range of economists surveyed by Barron’s. 2020’s pandemic-riddled economy is hard to gauge, but considering that Trump’s trade war did significant damage in 2019, there’s not much reason to expect last year’s blowout trade numbers favoring Bejing to look much better to Americans [John Tsitrian, “As if the Past Few Days Haven’t Been Bad Enough, Here’s a Final Kiss-Off to Trump: China Won the Trade War,” South Dakota Standard, 2021.01.15].
Trump’s promises on trade were as empty as his promises on other concrete policy goals. Trump gave polluters the most coal-friendly White House in decades with reckless and deadly deregulation, but he was helpless to reverse the smarter market forces that caused the U.S. coal industry to continue to shed jobs. His failure to respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic erased the economic gains he hoped to coast on to reëlection. He could have put millions of Americans to work building all the roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, and hospitals he promised, but he never passed, let alone laid out in detail, any infrastructure plan.
We’ve just survived four years of total White House flim-flam. Whether he was talking about his commitment to law and order or to real policy action, Donald Trump was lying to us. So, too, are the diehard Trumpists who now wish to fabricate myths about Donald Trump’s policy “achievements”.