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2019-03-01 00:00:00 -
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Charles Laffiteau’s Bigger Picture


While I await Beto O’Rourke’s decision whether or not to run for US President in 2020, I want to resume my discussion of some of the myths Donald Trump has continued to promote during his presidency. But before I continue: if you are wondering how such a bold-faced liar could have ever been elected, you must first understand how ill-informed roughly half of American voters are.


I am not just talking about Republicans here, but also voters who identify as Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and independents. A recent research study by Jared McDonald, David Karol and Lilliana Mason published in Political Behavior shows that many American voters are either uninformed or misinformed about Trump’s biographical background.


This misinformation has very real political consequence, because what we believe about someone’s background has an influence on our perception of them as a political leader. Numerous studies have shown that most American voters, as well as many voters in other countries, want leaders who understand their daily struggles and are capable of governing effectively if they are elected. As such, voters’ beliefs about a politician’s background influence their perceptions about their empathy for voters’ struggles and competency to govern.


In a 2017 University of Maryland study of thousands of American voters, Trump’s job approval ratings were five percentage points higher among Republican, Democratic and independent voters who believe Trump was not born “very wealthy”. In a follow-up study in 2018, half of the Republican and Democratic voters were provided factual information about Trump’s wealthy upbringing as well as the millions of dollars in loans he received from his father to bail out his failing business endeavours, while the other half were not.


Most of the Democrats didn’t feel that Trump was very empathetic even before they were given this information, but afterwards those perceptions were reduced by an additional three per cent. But among Republicans, their perceptions of Trump’s empathy plummeted by more than 10 percentage points. This information also had a pronounced effect on Republican and Democratic voters’ perceptions of Trump as a successful businessman and his competency to govern, with a decline of six per cent among Democrats and another nine points among Republicans.


The truth about Trump is that he has never been a successful businessman — a myth that he has used as his primary credential for electing him president. The truth is that Trump used his TV show The Apprentice to promote a counter-narrative of Donald Trump as an icon of success.


The lesson here is that regardless of whom the Democratic Party chooses to run in 2020, their candidate would be wise to spend a significant amount of resources exposing such myths about Trump.


However, unlike in 2016, Trump will have a record as President to run on — or away from, depending on the issue being discussed.

In addition to claiming success for America’s strong economic growth, which actually began in 2010 long before he took office, I would expect Trump to promote several legislative achievements that occurred while he was president. First, he will attempt to claim credit for the perceived benefits of the huge tax cut bill Republicans approved in December of 2017. Trump will argue that the corporate tax cut was needed to boost business investment which would lead to increases in productivity and wages for workers and annual GDP growth over four per cent.


During President George W Bush’s time in office, America’s GDP growth from 2001 to 2008 averaged 2.1 per cent. Following the recession of 2009, America’s GDP growth rate under President Obama from 2010 through 2016 was slightly higher. During Trump’s first year in 2017 GDP growth was 2.3 per cent, but after the massive corporate tax cut it is estimated to be only 2.9 per cent for all of 2018. More importantly, America’s fourth-quarter 2018 GDP growth is forecast to be less than 2.4 per cent, and the first quarter of 2019 is forecast to be just two per cent. What happened to those tax cut benefits?


And has the average worker seen a large increase in wages under President Trump? Under President Obama, from 2010 until the first quarter of 2016 when Trump took office, the average worker’s salary in constant dollars increased from $750 to $857 a week, or two per cent per year. But under Trump those average wages have only increased from $850 to $897 a week. Under Obama unemployment fell from 11.3 per cent in 2010 to 4.7 per cent in January 2017, an average of 0.08 per cent per year. But under Trump the rate is down just 0.05 per cent annually.


So, Trump’s claim that his tax cut boosted the economy and wages is another myth. However, since the Republican-led Senate changed its rules for electing Supreme Court Justices from 60 votes to a simple majority, Trump can lay claim to the appointment of two conservative judges, including one with a history of sexually assaulting women. And that claim is not a myth.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.


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