The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has taken a rather dim view of the Trump administration’s performance to date. An extremely dim view. Like, super dark. So dim as to be pitch black, in fact.
I am hardly the only pundit to have done this in 2017. Still, as his political and plutocratic base starts to waver, and as his poll numbers continue to worsen, methinks that all this negativity is getting to the president of the United States
because he can’t golf because it’s raining and he has the emotional maturity of a 5-year-old on his New Jersey vacation:
The Fake News refuses to report the success of the first 6 months: S.C., surging economy & jobs,border & military security,ISIS & MS-13 etc.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2017
The Fake News Media will not talk about the importance of the United Nations Security Council's 15-0 vote in favor of sanctions on N. Korea!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2017
I actually tweeted out that the Security Council resolution was a significant accomplishment, but let’s take Trump seriously and not literally. All administrations, even the most incompetent ones, can usually point to a few accomplishments after half a year in office. So let’s ask the question: What is the Trump administration’s greatest accomplishment to date?
Stepping back, there have been a few accomplishments of note:
- Getting Neil M. Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court;
- The significant drop-off in illegal immigration crossings (from an already low level);
- Neither the world nor the Constitution has been destroyed yet;
- Progress in the Middle East campaign against the Islamic State;
- A solidly growing economy.
Conservatives are likely to focus on Gorsuch, but to be honest, I’m a bit underwhelmed. Sure, he got confirmed, but he has not really distinguished himself on the bench yet. Also, as the replacement for Scalia, he is no Scalia — at least, not yet.
The drop-off in illegal immigration is real, but it is also from what was a pretty low level. The fact that the Trump administration now wants to cut legal immigration suggests that they are not satisfied in this area either.
While I am grateful that the world has not blown up, I already credited this as Trump’s major accomplishment in his first 100 days, so it feels like cheating to cite this again.
The campaign against the Islamic State is proceeding apace, but to be honest this looks like a simple continuation of Obama-era policies with a bit more delegation thrown in.
No, I think Trump’s biggest accomplishment to date has been on the U.S. economy. The stock market and jobs numbers have been pretty decent since January.
To be sure, the data might suggest that I am exaggerating Trump’s accomplishments in this area. On jobs, John Harwood’s tweet says it all:
average monthly job growth in 9 months since Trump's election: 179K
average monthly job growth in 9 months before Trump's election: 199K https://t.co/r5WbBOvbuH
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) August 4, 2017
And on the stock market, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones persuasively suggests that there is no actual Trump effect and that it’s simply a reversion to mean growth.
Both Harwood and Drum are correct, and yet this misses the larger point. Before Trump’s November victory, economic experts were petty dire in their predictions of what would happen to the global economy if Trump won. The morning of Trump’s victory, as futures markets of the NYSE seemed to be crashing, the New York Times’s Paul Krugman wrote the following:
Under any circumstances, putting an irresponsible, ignorant man who takes his advice from all the wrong people in charge of the nation with the world’s most important economy would be very bad news. What makes it especially bad right now, however, is the fundamentally fragile state much of the world is still in, eight years after the great financial crisis …
Now comes the mother of all adverse effects — and what it brings with it is a regime that will be ignorant of economic policy and hostile to any effort to make it work. Effective fiscal support for the Fed? Not a chance. In fact, you can bet that the Fed will lose its independence, and be bullied by cranks.
So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.
And here we arrive at the biggest dog not to bark in the Trump era. It’s not that economic progress has accelerated — it hasn’t. But there hasn’t been a slowdown either, globally or in the United States. The global economy has not imploded with Trump sitting in the Oval Office. That is a pleasant surprise.
Indeed, contra Krugman, the global economy seems to be perking up in 2017. The Trump trade in asset markets has abated, but corporate earnings have soared in 2017, so there has been no falloff in stock prices. Fake expectations have abated, but stock prices have stayed high because of solid earnings reports.
If there is anything that pleases Trump supporters, it is pointing out when experts have been wrong. Experts have not been wrong about the garbage fire that is the Trump White House, but they have been wrong about the effect of Oval Office incompetence on the global economy.
This might have been the biggest expert whiff in 2016. There was a consensus that Trump would wreck global and U.S. economic growth. This did not happen. And that context makes this the greatest accomplishment of the Trump administration in 2017.