President Trump never really builds out fully-formed arguments to make his case on things. He begins with the assumption that he’s right and then tacks on evidentiary points as afterthoughts. No president has been tougher on Russia, he argues, because, well, he’s building up the military and because he supports more oil drilling. It’s not super convincing, especially considering the contrary evidence (like his recent reversal on a plan to impose new sanctions on the country). But if you assume that he’s been unusually tough on Russia, that evidence is unnecessary.
Trump seems to similarly believe that he is unusually popular with black Americans and that he is delivering for them in a way that no prior president has. And when Kanye West this week touted Trump’s “dragon energy,” posting a picture of himself wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, Trump seized on it.
Trump made a similar case in his lengthy interview on “Fox and Friends” on Thursday.
“Kanye looks and he sees black unemployment at the lowest it’s been in the history of our country, OK?” Trump said. “He sees Hispanic unemployment at the lowest it’s been in the history of our country. He sees, by the way, female unemployment — women unemployment the lowest it’s been in now almost 19 years. He sees that stuff and he’s smart. And he says you know what, Trump is doing a much better job than the Democrats did.”
Trump’s tweet also mentioned Chance the Rapper, who quickly distanced himself from Trump. West didn’t reply to Trump’s assertions about the economy.
But it’s classic Trump. He believes that he’s delivering for the black community in the form of jobs, and so that becomes the point of argument that he seizes upon. He mentions it over and over. It’s the point of evidence he tacks on to this particular belief.
There’s no evidence, though, that West’s tweets had anything to do with employment numbers. He did tweet about jobs on Wednesday, admittedly — but that was about Steve Jobs.
We are confident that West’s tweets weren’t about employment numbers in part because Trump consistently overstates the shifts in employment during his presidency. “Trump is doing a much better job than the Democrats did,” he told Fox News — but that’s at best subjective and, more accurately, largely wrong.
We made this interactive tool in January. Can you identify the point at which Barack Obama took office?
To hear Trump tell it, Obama must have left office when that curve was at its peak. But of course he didn’t; black unemployment peaked after the recession and then dropped significantly over the latter part of Obama’s two terms.
The black unemployment rate sank faster than the rate for whites or Hispanics after the recession, and, after the rates for whites and Hispanics bottomed out, the black rate kept falling.
Of course, it had farther to go. The black unemployment rate has always been at least 66 percent higher than white unemployment.
Put more simply, though, the record-low unemployment rates among black Americans are a function of a steady, long-term drop that precedes Trump’s time in office. Trump’s essentially claiming credit for winning the 4-by-100 relay all by himself.
More importantly, there was no sudden surge in black employment as Trump seems to imply. If we look at the average monthly number of jobs added or lost in a year, 2018 is outperforming the averages in any of the past 12 years. But the first three months of the year have seen higher-than-average growth consistently in recent years. The first three months of 2018 saw lower average job growth for whites and Hispanics than the first three months of 2017, which saw lower average growth than the first three months of 2016.
The figure for black Americans in the first three months of the year is better than in 2017 or 2016, but worse than other recent years, including 2014. Over the course of 2017, though, the monthly average was about the same as it was in 2016, which was down from 2014 and 2015.
Black employment growth has been steady. From April 2014 to March 2015, 646,000 more black Americans were employed. From April 2015 to March 2016, 580,000 more. From April 2016 to March 2017, 634,000. From April 2017 to March 2018? Another 646,000.
This detail obscures the broader point, though, which is that while people finding work might improve their opinions of Trump, opinions of Trump overall have declined over the course of his presidency. Overall, his approval rating in Gallup polling has slipped from 45 percent to 39. Among black Americans, it’s down from 15 percent to 9. Among Hispanics, from 24 percent to 20. There’s no correlation, in other words, between increases in the number of people employed and their views of Trump. It’s more complicated than that.
Why does Kanye West feel comfortable touting Trump? There have been a thousand pieces written about this over the past two days, and you’re encouraged to read them. But one reason is that West is a contrarian, and embracing Trump is a contrarian position — because most black Americans don’t support Trump.
One more point of evidence that employment wasn’t the motivating factor comes from one of the people Trump cited in his tweet.