President Trump confessed why he demonizes the press to journalist Lesley Stahl in 2016: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” Trump has been quite successful in achieving this objective, with lots of support from an adoring Fox News. He can lie about the most obvious facts and his supporters seem to treat his every word as if it were gospel.
This Trumpian attitude toward the media, however, causes many voters to reject valid information, not only about Trump’s abuses of power but about the policies he’s promoting that are actually hurting them. His international trade protectionism provides a classic example.
The president claims that tariffs added $100 billion to the U.S. Treasury’s coffers and that China is paying the tab. Well, either he is playing those who believe him for fools or he is ignorant about how trade barriers work. Tariffs are levies on imported goods that are mostly paid by the importing company and American consumers, just like a federal sales tax on products we buy.
Trump also lies when he boasts that the GOP will be the “party of health care.” But the truth is revealed in his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal. No one in Congress paid any attention to this document when it came out in March, so it didn’t get a lot of media attention either. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office evaluated Trump’s spending preferences anyway and its analysis was just published last week.
After all his hoopla, this CBO report shows that Trump wants to cut federal spending on health care by almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Most of that reduction is based on his continuing plan to repeal Obamacare and comes from the current funding of Medicaid, although Medicare takes some hits too. Will the folks in rural Trumpland whose hospitals are closing for lack of funding and who struggle to get health care come to understand what Trump and the Republicans are doing to them? I doubt it. And will those who are exposed to some facts believe them? Not if Fox News can help it.
Trump will tout the fact that wages are finally increasing now that unemployment is at all-time lows and he will credit his 2017 tax cut. But will he brag about the inequality that Republican tax policies have been causing since the 1980s and highlight a recent analysis of wealth holdings by the Federal Reserve? I don’t think so.
The Fed estimates that Americans owned $114 trillion of assets in 2018. The two largest categories were real estate, including housing, and pensions like 401(k)s. Next were corporate stocks and mutual funds, followed by durable goods like vehicles, appliances, furniture, etc. Liabilities totaled $15 trillion, which are mostly mortgages and consumer credit. You know, the kind of debts the middleclass have. That leaves Americans with around $100 trillion in net worth. Quite impressive, right?
Well — yes, until you find out who owns all this wealth. The Fed estimates that the top 10 percent of U.S. households control 70 percent of the household wealth, an increase from 60 percent in 1989. The share of the wealth distribution held by the top one percent has increased from 23 percent in 1989 to almost 32 percent in 2018. Over this same period, the wealth share of the 50th to 90th percentiles — the middleclass and the upper middleclass — decreased from 36 percent to 29 percent. It appears that losses by this economically core group became gains for the top one percent. And as the wealthy gain more, Republicans want to tax them less.
The bottom 50 percent of the wealth holders, according to the Fed, experienced virtually no increase in their net worth over the last 30 years, as their total wealth share decreased from four percent in 1989 to one percent in 2018. Consequently, many in this group have almost no net worth and scant savings for retirement, health emergencies or nursing home care. And growing federal budget deficits could make their plight worse as Republicans press for significant cuts to the entitlement programs that help keep some of these folks out of poverty.
The deficit red ink during the coming decade will add $11.4 trillion to the national debt according to the latest federal budget baseline published by the CBO. But this projection assumes that the 2017 Republican tax cuts for individuals will expire in 2025 and that revenues will thereafter increase. If these tax cuts are made permanent, which is likely, the 10-year deficit will balloon to over $12.2 trillion.
A financial advisor recently told me that Trump will do everything he can to keep the economy strong until the 2020 election and I agree. Trump will lie; he will bully the Fed to cut interest rates; and he will label any negative numbers and critical information about his economic policies “fake news”. And his supporters will probably swallow these specious claims like a cold beer on a hot day.
But what is truly frightening — and disheartening — is how Republican politicians have dutifully kneeled to Trump’s imperial presidency no matter how he lies and in spite of the damage he is doing to the rule of law and the Constitution.