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By Kishan Gandham

Sophomore, Duke

From his promises to bring back Appalachian coal jobs to reducing the multi-trillion dollar national deficit, one of the biggest elements of candidate Donald Trump’s platform has been making the economy great. But Donald Trump the candidate and Donald Trump the President are vastly different politicians.* While Wall Street and the working class might have taken to his rhetoric on supercharging an already successful Obama-era economy, the facts point to failures of the Trump administration on COVID-response as well as looser policies on corporations, eventually rapidly increasing debt and inequality. It’s important to systematically organize the failures of Trump’s economy: while it may have its bright spots, overall, it has underperformed on account of COVID recovery, major legislative programs, and trade policy. I assign a D to Donald Trump’s economic agenda.

On COVID, Trump has disregarded pandemic control, regularly delegitimized the severity of the virus, and failed to bring the economy back to levels of growth prior to the virus. While the Trump administration touts the idea that any president would have been left with a broken economy, economists mapped out how Trump’s response was categorically disorganized. A Center for American Progress statistical estimate gathers that if Trump utilized the COVID protocol trajectories of countries such as  Canada and South Korea, and told the American people point-blank that there was a public health crisis, 12 to 18 million more Americans would likely be employed right now. Even more dangerously, CAP concluded that Trump’s inability to confront the virus has left 7.5 million small businesses on the precipice of bankruptcy, while millions of Americans are grappling with the weaker safety nets that he spent his entire administration getting rid of. 

Nevertheless, before the virus, Trump did not make the American economy great again. He simply rode on the coattails of Obama’s economy, and deregulated here and there as the Senate Joint Economic Committee tells us. An analysis of Trump’s performance in his first three years by the House Committee on the Budget found no evidence of a ‘supercharge’. In fact, the economic growth rate under Trump was 2.5%—mirroring Obama’s final years. Despite creating a gigantic stimulus bill with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, his major economic idea, economic growth averaged the exact same rate as years prior while business investment and consumption actually dropped or increased at minimal levels. Overall, a November 2019 Peter G. Peterson Foundation analysis explicated how the TCJA decreased corporate tax revenue dramatically, while marginally affecting repatriations of US companies without substantially increasing business investment. So much for the businessman President. 

Surprisingly, his trade policy might be the most convoluted and problematic. A NYT report on Trump’s economic policies explains the shortcomings of Trump’s trade tactics: with a trade war with China that left US consumers paying for higher-priced American goods and tariff after tariff on goods such as aluminum and steel, ultimately, American goods in the global marketplace became dramatically less competitive under Trump. Overall, the President has almost entirely failed on his promises to end the trade deficit with China and bring American corporations back home. 

Nonetheless, there are bright spots amidst Trump’s chaotic economic program. A Vox report from Nov. of 2018 shows how NAFTA, at least for the average worker, lacked serious safety protections. Although most economists estimate that the Trump-negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the replacement to NAFTA, lacks the kind of drastic change the man tweeted about, it does have better collective bargaining and unionization protections for Mexican farm workers while benefiting US factory workers by forcing American auto manufacturers to use US-made parts. But the evidence is damning: while Trump by no means toppled the American economic order, he drastically undersold what his administration would do, creating the smallest of wins while leaving millions of American out of work, below the poverty line, and waiting for this administration to, hopefully, end in peace rather than pieces.

Trump’s Economy Grade: D

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Trump’s Economy Grade: C+

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Trump’s Economy Grade: B

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