“People occupy different realities on guns,” President Obama said recently at a town hall meeting. Yes, and people -- like Donald Trump -- also occupy different realities when it comes to the state of the union.
While Obama hails the recovery he has led, Trump claims the economy is a “disaster.” Where Obama sees progress on reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Trump sees the “worst deal ever negotiated in my lifetime.” As the president takes credit for leading the fight against climate change, Trump calls Obama’s claim that global warming is our biggest threat “one of the dumbest statements I've ever heard in politics -- in the history of politics as I know it.”
Donald Trump has built his campaign challenging Obama’s realities, with understandable success. He is saying what many Americans think – that President Obama’s priorities and policies are wrong, and even dangerous. Obama claims that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest free-trade agreement concluded since NAFTA in 1993, would expand our exports and give “our workers the fair shot at [the] success they deserve.”
Donald Trump tweeted, “The incompetence of our current administration is beyond comprehension. TPP is a terrible deal.” A just-published World Bank study shows that of the 12 nations involved, the U.S. gains the least from the deal, boosting our economy by only 0.4 percent by 2030, compared to 10 percent for Vietnam. Whose view is closer to the truth?
The president celebrates Obamacare, and the increased number of people who have health insurance. But 33 million Americans still don’t have insurance and those who do are unhappy with their limited choice of doctors and high deductibles. Trump, who believes in universal coverage, calls the president’s signature healthcare plan a “complete disaster” which should be repealed and replaced. He cites fast-rising premium costs and proposes a private market solution. The majority of the country agrees.
Obama hails reductions in our troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq but increased violence in those countries mean that our soldiers are being deployed again. Meanwhile, Russia annexed Crimea and the U.S. stood by, desperately wanting Moscow to resolve the conflict in Syria. China has now placed military bases in the South China Sea and perpetrated enormous cyberattacks on the U.S. The Obama White House has not responded for fear that Beijing might torpedo the Paris climate accord. Iran has tested ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. resolutions and fired rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier, while Obama looked the other way to preserve the nuclear deal.
Trump tweets: “We need much tougher, much smarter leadership - and we need it NOW!” The country, which gives Obama low marks for his handling of terror threats and foreign policy, would seem to agree.
President Obama has belittled the threat of Islamic terror, despite its obvious spread. The president calls for an influx of refugees from war-torn lands who by definition cannot be vetted and who may pose real threats to our citizens. Donald Trump has called for a moratorium on Muslim immigrants “until our country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on” – attracting an avalanche of criticism. Lo and behold, 53 percent of the country agrees with him.
Trump’s criticisms tend to stick because they have substance. He says the 5 percent unemployment rate is bogus because there are so many who have dropped out of the workforce. He’s right: there are 94 million adults on the sidelines. He says the new jobs added are not high quality. It’s true that wages are stagnant. He says we haven’t been adding enough jobs. Economist William Dunkelberg of the National Federation of Independent Businesses notes, “The 1983-90 expansion created 689,000 jobs per quarter compared to 439,000 in this expansion…all that with a 30 percent smaller labor force….” Meanwhile, we see nearly 47 million receiving food stamps and an alarming decline in new business formations. Even Vice President Joe Biden agrees the middle class has been left behind.
The billionaire builder is not the only one trumpeting our economic problems. The stock market has been weighing in as well, suffering the worst opening-week ever. Why? Because investors are worried about the Fed hiking interest rates. They see our manufacturers struggling against the resulting stronger dollar, while other sectors – like energy – are engaged in a fight-to-the death with slumping prices and ramped-up government regulations. They see the number of businesses going under outpacing start-ups for the first time in 35 years and a demoralizing dearth of new investment.
There are other issues at work, such as China’s slowing growth rate. But the U.S. can overcome declining growth overseas as long as consumers and businesses in the U.S. have the confidence to spend and invest. Unfortunately, some of the key players in our economy – like small business owners – are not optimistic. Hiring by that group has been tepid due to concerns about Obamacare, new overtime pay rules and other regulations.
Obama sees a bright future for the United States, if we continue down his path. But 65 percent of Americans think we are headed in the wrong direction. Many see our country reeling from seven years of wrong-headed mismanagement, increasingly costly regulations, and policies driven by political correctness instead of common sense. Those folks share Donald Trump’s perspective on the state of the union. And, they want him to make our country great again.