Unemployment America is bleak but in Stock Market America things are looking up. Taken together, this split reality portends a rough ride for the president’s re-election bid and even greater national discord. Donald Trump has every reason to worry.
First, Unemployment America. On Thursday, the labor department reported that another 3.8 million people filed first-time unemployment claims, bringing the total of those who are recently out of work to more than 30 million.
This cataclysmic data came on the heels of the steepest first-quarter GDP decline since the Great Recession, projections of a second-quarter GDP drop of 40% and an admission by Kevin Hassett, the president’s chief economic adviser, that unemployment could hit 20% by June, a level not experienced since the Great Depression.
For a president who claimed to be a champion of the working class, this is an abject failure. The answer to the question of whether you are better off today than you were four years ago would appear to be simple. But it isn’t.
At the same time as the economy is cratering and coronavirus’s death toll has surpassed the number of US troops killed in Vietnam, the stock market has rebounded from its March lows. As a result, its behavior under Trump still surpasses its performances during the Reagan and Bush Sr years. For how much longer is still an open question.
On the other hand, as far as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton went, Trump isn’t even close. Still it’s a quantifiable achievement, and those close to the president and his campaign know it.
In a conversation with the Guardian, a connected Trump campaign adviser took pride in the market’s April advance, expressed displeasure with the word choices of Trump’s economic advisers, and remained mute with regard to recent job losses.
In Trump’s world, it’s the “stock market, stupid”. No wonder Jared Kushner boasts that the administration coronavirus response “is a great success story”, and opines “that’s really what needs to be told.” Can you say, “Mission Accomplished 2.0”?
At the 1984 Democratic convention, Mario Cuomo, the late New York governor and father of Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent, riffed on Charles Dickens and delivered the most memorable keynote speech in recent history. Cuomo told those assembled that the nation was more a “Tale of Two Cities” than a “Shining City on a Hill”.
To be sure, the speech won accolades but failed to resonate. Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee, was shellacked on election day.
Mondale’s problem was that by 1984 most of the US came to believe that it was Morning in America. The recovery was real, inflation had been drained from the system.
Beyond that, President Reagan had not made the stock market the exclusive barometer of the country’s wellbeing. Rather, the drop in unemployment moved in tandem with the Dow’s rise.
2020, however, is a very different time and Trump is a very different president. Unemployment America is getting ravaged.
The labor department’s latest report is also flashing red over key electoral battlegrounds. Michigan and Pennsylvania are among the states with the highest insured unemployment rates. At the same time, Florida and Texas are among the states showing largest numbers of initial jobless claims. Not surprisingly, recent polls show Joe Biden with small but persistent leads in Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania
To put things into perspective, if those results hold on election day, Biden would be the 46th president and Trump would go down as an impeached one-term president.
But now even Texas is in play, which last went Democratic in 1976. Back then, the ticket of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale prevailed over a Watergate-stained Republican party. Indeed, the latest poll of Texas voters gives Biden a one-point edge. Beyond that, Texas’s emerging woes may signal problems ahead in the rest of the oil patch.
There is a reason that the president reportedly threatened to sue his campaign manager and erupted, “I’m not fucking losing to Joe Biden” – because he possibly will. Trump’s Two Americas strategy appears devastating to working Americans and to himself.
*Lloyd Green was opposition research counsel to George HW Bush’s 1988 campaign and served in the Department of Justice from 1990 to 1992.