How to shut down your Trump-supporting family member at Thanksgiving dinner
Today hundreds of millions of Americans will sit down with close friends and family over heaping portions of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. After the usual small talk about chilly weather and the day’s football matchups, discussions will inevitably shift to politics. In a country bitterly divided over the Trump presidency and his looming impeachment, heated arguments will begin. Tempers and passions are likely to flare. But they shouldn’t.
Political discussions should not be about left or right, Democrat vs. Republican. Instead, they should be about what is objectively right or wrong for the country. Thanks to the enormously corrosive effects of partisan, ratings-driven media outlets (and the dangerous echo chambers they fuel), such fact-based, ideologically neutral distinctions have largely disintegrated.
With these realities in mind, the facts are simply not on Trump’s side. A few discussion points — from the perspective of a political independent — on key topics follow:
The Economy: President Donald Trump made the economy a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign. Three years into his presidency, Trump relentlessly touts job growth under his administration. But it is important to note that 1.1 million fewer jobs were created during Trump’s first 33 months in office compared to Obama’s last 33. Trump also promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. But manufacturing is now the smallest share of the American economy in 72 years. Meanwhile, median household income, an important economic measure, has remained largely stagnant over Trump’s first three years in office. Trump administration spin aside, increases in household income trail those under Obama, which grew steadily toward the end of his administration.
Moreover, in selling a massive tax cut to the public, Trump promised “4, 5, even 6 percent” annual economic growth. With dismal growth expected this quarter, Trump will finish his first term with a high-water mark of 2.9 percent annual economic growth (in 2018) — matching Obama’s economic record. Apparently, Trump’s much-touted rollbacks of regulations protecting American workers and the environment had very little effect on economic growth. Moreover, the massive Trump tax cut, which overwhelmingly benefitted the wealthy and corporate interests, did not “pay for itself,” as Trump predicted it would. Perhaps worst of all, despite his repeated promises and assurances, Trump’s tax cut had almost no effect on the economy.
This stunning lack of growth begs the question: Why are we racking up trillions in debt (much of it bought up by China) thanks to the Trump tax cut? The only discernible effect of the Trump tax cut appears to be an explosion in wealth and income inequality. Indeed, inequality in America is now at levels not seen since Wall Street greed caused the economic crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. For his part, Trump told his ultra-wealthy friends that “You all just got a lot richer” immediately after his tax cut was passed.
But a system where three citizens own more wealth than the poorest half of the country cannot be sustainable. Indeed, with inequality fueling large-scale, brutally violent protests around the world, Americans would be wise to take heed of the pitfalls of extreme wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. And, if contemporary warnings do not suffice, the French, Russian and Cuban revolutions, among many others, serve as stark reminders of what may be to come if wealth is further concentrated in the United States.
Moreover, as a direct result of the massive Trump tax cut for the wealthy, 2018 was the first year ever that tax revenues actually declined in a relatively strong economy. This paved the way for the Trump administration to post the largest monthly deficit in U.S. history, further driving up the federal debt. While many commentators blame Obama for skyrocketing debt during his administration, they conveniently ignore that those increases — according to the U.S. Treasury — were overwhelmingly due to the long-term compounding effects of the massive George W. Bush tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy.
The (relatively small) debts accrued due to the Obama administration’s aggressive economic recovery policies helped bring unemployment down from a high of 10 percent to 4.7 percent, an impressive decline of more than 5 percentage points. It should come as no surprise that economists overwhelmingly credit Obama’s policies with bringing the U.S. economy back to life after the Great Recession — an economy which Trump now loudly claims credit for.
Lastly, stock market gains are by no means an indicator of economic well-being on Main Street. After all, Wal-Mart’s stock could skyrocket, only to leave millions of Americans stuck in painfully low-paying jobs. But despite relentlessly touting Wall Street gains, Trump significantly trails both Obama and Clinton in stock market performance at this point in their respective presidencies.
Health care: Trump (and GOP) efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act resulted in 1.1 million Americans losing health coverage in 2018. This breaks a 10-year streak of rising numbers of insured Americans.
Tragically, two-thirds of Americans filing for bankruptcy do so because they cannot afford to pay medical bills — often despite having health insurance. Perhaps worse, America is seeing an alarming increase in “deaths of despair,” particularly among the white, working-class citizens who turned out in droves to vote Trump into office. An increasing mortality rate is not the sign of a healthy economy or country; it is a hallmark of staggering wealth and income inequality.
Immigration: Deportations are far lower under the Trump administration compared to the same period during the Obama administration.
Foreign Policy: Trump should be commended for standing up to China’s unfair trade and economic espionage practices. But despite branding himself the ultimate “dealmaker,” Trump’s deal-making abilities on the international stage have proven abysmal. North Korea’s brutal dictator, for one, played Trump like a fiddle. By exploiting Trump’s weakness for pageantry and flashy photo opportunities, Kim Jong Un hoodwinked an oblivious Trump into gaining international legitimacy for his murderous regime.
In Iran, Trump’s disastrous (and utterly failed) “maximum pressure” campaign displays a stunning misunderstanding of Iranian history and strategic priorities. Indeed, Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal — negotiated alongside America’s closest allies and supported by key figures in the U.S. and Israeli security establishments — represents a tremendous blunder that is emboldening the worst, most conservative, anti-American factions in Iran. Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement also gives cover for Iran to inch ever-closer to obtaining a nuclear bomb.
It should come as no wonder that America is the laughingstock of the world. With Trump siding with authoritarians and dictators around the world, American credibility and popularity on the international stage has plummeted to historic lows.
Impeachment: Democrats claim that Trump improperly (and illegally) withheld crucial security assistance to a close American ally at war for personal gain. A litany of (decidedly unimpeachable) patriots delivered a series of devastating blows to Trump’s defense. Even Fox News anchors and analysts have slammed Trump’s actions as “impeachable.” At the end of the day, only one question matters: Why was the security assistance to Ukraine stopped? The answer is painfully obvious.
“Identity” Politics: Trump has railed against political correctness. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Andrew Yang have all spoken out against the corrosive effects of “identity” politics and political correctness run amok. Perhaps most importantly, President Obama’s forceful rejections of “woke” culture and ideological purity should be a wakeup call for the left. Continuing to push such divisive narratives will further alienate the crucial voters in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who decide American presidential elections.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.