Before he ran for president, Donald Trump liked to “vlog” — record snippets of his thoughts on video that would then be published on social media. Most are gone now, but they ran a broad gamut — from pop culture to complaints about then-President Barack Obama.
In recent days, Trump has reembraced the format, recording short videos outside the White House in which he pontificates on various topics. On Wednesday, celebrating the S&P 500 setting a record for the longest bull market in its history, one subject was the economy.
There are two benefits to offering his thoughts this way. First, he gets more than 280 characters. Second, it’s less likely that casual fact-checkers will transcribe and evaluate what he has to say. In this case, though, it’s worth doing so.
“When I got elected, you had some people that said, ‘This is going to be the greatest thing to ever happen to our country.’ I guess that’s why I won; we had a lot of people,” Trump said. “But you had others that say, ‘Oh, the market will collapse; lots of bad things will happen.’ And take a look at what’s happened. We have the greatest, longest bull market in the history of our country.” He went on to say that some of those who had said the economy would stumble had apologized.
It’s true that, with the close of markets on Wednesday, the S&P 500 had its longest run of price increases in history without a correction of 20 percent from its peak, the definition of a bull market. It passed the bull market that began in 1990 and ran until 2000.
Whether that’s the greatest run is subjective. The gain in stock valuations during that run in the 1990s was higher.
But the important point here isn’t the duration of the market. It’s that Trump is claiming ownership over it. That seems misplaced, to use a generous term for it. For more than 83 percent of the days of the current run, Obama was president. Why does Trump get credit for the full thing when he oversaw only the last 17 percent of it?
The answer, of course, is politics. Trump repeatedly cites the strength of the economy in recent months as a function of his presidency — at times isolating it as the premier achievement of his tenure in the White House.
That was reflected in the interview he gave to Fox News’s Ainsley Earhardt that aired Thursday morning. (It, like the video above, was taped Wednesday.) He was asked by Earhardt whether he thought that a Democratic-led House would try to impeach him.
“Well, you know, I guess it says something like high crimes and all — I don’t — I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job,” Trump replied. “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor, because without this thinking [he pointed at his head], you would see — you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.” He went on to reiterate other claims about improvements in the economy that, as usual, misrepresent the health of the economy when he took office.
Consider that argument, though. Trump explicitly argues that the economy and the markets are doing well because of his thinking. That’s … hard to defend.
First of all, if the market crashed, there would certainly be ramifications throughout the country, as there were before the recession a decade ago. It’s not the case, though, that “everybody would be very poor” because the value of their stocks sank; about half of Americans own no stock.
But, more generally, it’s hard to see evidence that the health of the markets is tightly tied to Trump’s brain. Stock indexes were rising before he came into office. They have risen since. Economic indicators were improving before he took office. Those improvements have continued.
Bloomberg writer Conor Sen, whose day job is in investment banking, pointed out on Twitter that Trump might have the causality of an impeachment reversed. Trump’s approval ratings among Republicans are probably a function of the strength of the economy to a large degree. If the markets sank dramatically, those approval ratings would probably fall — and Republicans in Congress who’ve been wary of bucking the party’s base might be more willing to hold Trump to account through the impeachment process. In other words, a market crash could lead to impeachment, not the other way around.
To hear Trump tell it, he’s the only thing holding the economy together, and to remove him means to remove the robust economic growth that began before he took office. (In fact, he often takes credit for economic trends going back to November 2016, months before he was inaugurated.) There certainly has been a spike in economic confidence during his presidency, but that’s in part thanks to Republicans reversing their assessments.
But the graphs at the top of this article undercut that. If Trump left office tomorrow, the bull market he celebrates will still have occurred mostly on Obama’s watch. Not that Obama or any president deserves too much credit for market fluctuations. But if you’re going to claim that market surges are a function of your thinking, it’s hard to explain how they predate your brain being in a position of power by eight years.