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Opinions | The Trump market is a rather limp balloon. Just look at history.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 23/10/2020 David Von Drehle

Eleven days before the 2020 election, the Dow Jones industrial average, the venerable index of U.S. stock market performance, opened at 28,409.65. This number looms large in the argument for reelecting President Trump. In the final debate of the election season, challenger Joe Biden directly addressed the Trump market: “The idea that the stock market is booming is his only measure of what’s happening.” And Trump was happy to agree, saying: “401(k)s are through the roof.”

But as a closing argument for reelection, the Trump market is a rather limp balloon. Yes, stocks are up during the Trump years — by about 43 percent over the past 45 months. By the standards of the past 100 years, this is a good, but hardly great, performance. ​

Great would be Franklin D. Roosevelt, who inherited a moribund market in the depths of the Great Depression and, with fiscal and rhetorical jolts, stimulated the Dow to a 225-percent rise in his first 45 months. Of course, FDR had the advantage of following an underperformer: His predecessor Herbert Hoover watched the market plunge by 80 percent in value during the same period of his first (and only) term.

If you set Roosevelt apart in his own league, you have Calvin Coolidge in front — the quiet conservative who put the roar in the Roaring ’20s. At this same point in his presidential service, Silent Cal presided over a stock market up 85 percent. That’s Trump times two, with none of the melodrama. Nearly as impressive (and, alas, far more dramatic): Bill Clinton, at 82 percent.

Then there’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. The market was up nearly 66 percent during his first 45 months. Barack Obama’s 45-month scorecard showed a nearly 64 percent rise. Then it’s a steep step down to Trump, with his 43 percent, a number much closer to the economically ho-hum George H.W. Bush, at 38 percent, than to the leaders of the pack.

This is a century of cold, hard data — simple numbers, not fake news. The index is recorded at the end of every daily trading session — and has been, without fail, through booms and busts, through war and peace, through Republican eras and Democratic eras. You can look it up for yourself. Of the past 14 presidencies lasting at least 45 months, Trump ranks sixth for stock market performance, right in the middle of the pack. Anyone who votes to reelect him based on the Dow is embracing a man of low character in exchange for an average economic return.

Oh, but the “China virus,” Trump will say! But for that unfortunate interruption, his economy would surely be ranked the best in history.

[Our Democracy in Peril: A series on the damage Trump has caused — and the danger he would pose in a second term]

Not according to the stock market. Trump’s favorite metric, those “booming” 401(k)s, tells us that nothing was changed by the virus. Trump was in exactly the same spot last January, after 36 months in office: number six out of 14 presidents, far behind his loathed predecessors Clinton and Obama at the same point in their service. As I said: You can look it up.

Obviously, the stock market is not the whole economy. But Trump the candidate surely wishes that it were, because larger measures of economic performance have indeed been battered by the pandemic. They make the case for reelection look even worse. The moderate growth in gross domestic product during Trump’s first three years turned to a crash and is struggling to recover. The pleasing job gains of those three years have been wiped out, and Trump may prove to be one of the very rare presidents to end a full term with fewer Americans in jobs than when he started.

Trump came into office complaining about trade deficits. But we’re deeper in the hole than when he started. He boasts of low gasoline prices — the United States has always had low gas prices by world standards — but pre-pandemic, before demand cratered, gasoline got slightly more expensive under Trump. He points to farm incomes, but if you strip away the government subsidies, farmers are struggling with persistent low prices for their crops.

Again, these are the facts, not spin. At the end of the game, the scoreboard tells the story. And the story of the Trump economy is long on flimflammery but short on results. Every conceivable stimulus has been deployed, even before the pandemic. The federal deficit was over $1 trillion before the first covid-19 case emerged in the United States. A huge tax cut juiced the bottom lines of cash-rich corporations and wealthy individuals. ​The burden of federal regulations was slashed by an army of libertarian scofflaws at the helms of government agencies. Every dial cranked, every pedal stomped — yet the results have ranged from average to poor.

He comes from the casino business, where they dangle illusions of wealth while emptying wallets. Voting for Trump in 2016 was a gamble. Now, it’s gullibility.

Read more from David Von Drehle’s archive.

Read more:

These people told us in 2016 why they voted for Trump. Here’s how they’re voting in 2020.

Jennifer Rubin: Trump cares more about the stock market than humans

David Von Drehle: Putin may be using new technology, but he is a classic Russian czar

Greg Sargent: As the virus spreads, Trump rages over the markets. That’s alarming.

James Downie: Trump thinks the economy is no longer worth his time. We’ll all pay the price.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Trump at the White House on Friday. © Carlos Barria/Reuters President Trump at the White House on Friday.

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