April 28, 2019

So, Is Trump Making America Great…Again?

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Well, we guess that depends on who you ask. If one believes greatness correlates to the Dow Jones Industrial Averages we absolutely couldn’t be greater.  As the prominent late economist, Irving Fisher, famously said during another Dow Jones high, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Oh wait, that was in October 1929.

Actually, we think the market is in great shape. Big business is flush with cash and small business owners are, generally, very happy with nearly 80 percent reporting profits…and unemployment is very low. Under President Trump, the economic recovery that began during the Obama administration has continued unabated. When President Obama assumed office, he inherited, from President Bush, a 7.8% unemployment rate which quickly topped out at a frighteningly high 9.6%.  Then the unemployment rate began dropping under President Obama, reaching full employment, with unemployment at a low of 4.8% by the time Trump took the oath of office. The unemployment rate has dropped another one percent during President Trump’s two years in office, reaching 3.8% earlier this month. Thank you, Presidents Obama and Trump.

So, are we great…again?

We’re as great as we’ve ever been, no more, no less. What makes “us” great is what Alexis de Tocqueville observed. It’s the constitution that created a country with no sovereign, and a government in which the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches all had equal power. No monarch, no sovereign, no ruling boss. How radical. Therein lies the secret of America’s greatness.

Our governing paradigm enables talented and selfless citizens to do great things for their fellow citizens. America enables some citizens to become great contributors to their country. Politicians don’t make the country great. The country enables some politicians to assume the mantle of greatness. That is how “greatness” is properly accorded in America. “Greatness” is a measure of stewardship. As de Tocqueville observed, Americans were simply citizens who were, pretty much, left alone to pursue their dreams. That, and that alone, is what made America great. That is what de Tocqueville saw as American exceptionalism. It was the most radical government paradigm ever conceived. How our elected leaders respond (within the limits of their constitutional power) to crises becomes a measure of greatness that historians may or may not accord to a president.

The very notion of any politician making America great (again) is nonsense.  A group of remarkably talented men sculpted a great system of government out of new and radical ideas. They created a marvelous republic if, as Franklin observed, we could keep it. What did Franklin mean when he stood on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and intoned, “you have a Republic if you can keep it?” He meant that this new democracy was fragile. It was as strong as the willingness of the people to be governed by laws they collectively penned rather than by the dictates or whims of men.  Yes, historians accord degrees of greatness to our leaders, but their verdict is really a measure of how our presidents have guided a brilliantly crafted ship of state within the parameters and constraints built into our governing structure.

America was great at its birth. It enabled its leaders to soar or to stumble. It could make them “great” but they couldn’t make America great. At any given time, Americans collectively internalize whether they feel America is on the right track or the wrong track. Politicians can strut and preen and proclaim their greatness, but none of that can determine how Americans feel about the course the nation is taking. Only Americans can determine that. It’s the feeling in their gut—the tension and stress or the lack of it they feel as they go about their daily routine.

The best indication of how Americans feel about the course of the ship-of-state—that is, whether the country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction is the rolling average of seven well-respected national polls tracked by Real Clear Politics. They tell us President Trump is faring about the same as President Obama fared at roughly this point in his Presidency. That’s not too bad given the pounding Trump has endured for the better part of two years over the, now abandoned, charge that he or his campaign conspired with the Russians. But no one is, or should be, feeling great right now.

Well over half of the people (56.4%) according to the Real Clear Politics averages feel the country is on the wrong track. Trump is limping along in the ratings, and there is little to indicate that the people feel he is making the country great again. Small wonder. The news is depressing. Nativism is on the march here and abroad. We have no immigration policy that makes any sense. The budget deficit is growing, the national debt is growing, the incidence of hate crime is growing. Violence is ever-present as another shooting in a synagogue yesterday reminds us.

Greatness is always within reach. It takes men and women of good will and superb judgment acting in concert with one another. Red MAGA caps and crowds chanting “Make America Great Again” won’t do it.

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4 responses to “So, Is Trump Making America Great…Again?”

  1. Perry says:

    There is little wrong with people chanting Make America Great
    Again, as his policies have begun to bear much fruit. The plethora of Democratic hopefuls together has failed to really
    espouse meaningful programs other than “Free” or you are
    entitled.

    As a once proud Democrat and now independent I see no other
    choice than to vote for Trump again with all his personality and personal flaws.

  2. With the torrents of criticism of Trump in recent weeks and months here and in the MSM where is the harm in acknowledging some of his successes? The Editorial in today’s WSJ regarding the strong rebound in the GDP gives credit to Trump. An excerpt from the editorial clearly addresses this point and I quote,
    “Business investment fell through the floor in the last half of 2015 and 2016, offset in part by a robust housing market. But that has reversed since Donald Trump took office, with business investment taking the lead as housing slowed and moved into negative territory in late 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. What changed? Well, the economic policy mix. The Trump Administration lifted the threat of new regulation and harassment of business in 2017, which liberated long-stifled animal spirits. Then came the Trump tax reform with its sharp reduction in business tax rates and immediate 100% expensing of new investment. This was targeted precisely to stimulate the weak capital investment that had stymied growth in the Obama years. This has also kept the U.S. expansion going even as growth in the rest of the world has slowed markedly. ”
    This is what is Making America Great Again.
    Contrary to your editorial, Trump the politician is making our country stronger and a better place for us all.

    • Dr. Silverstein and Perry both miss our point. We acknowledged in this essay both the strong financial markets and the strong improvement in our economy during the Trump (and Obama’s) Presidency. The country’s resiliency and its ability to respond to sound policy the way the founders intended is what makes America great. It is how (as we state in this essay) America allows politicians to become great…not the other way around. We can’t help but wonder if our commenters believed President Obama was making our country great again, when unemployment was slashed from 10% to less than 5% during his presidency.

  3. Robert borns says:

    What leader of a successful business,sports team,family,army,country talked negatively with self hatred in a self depreciating manner . Before trump our country was being led to moral and financial destruction. A looser mentality was being pushed on us. Trump is shaking us up and making us think about where we are and where we are going. He has given us a path back to what our founders wanted. A free life with a possible way forward if we worked for it. And by the way—-what self respecting intelligent person would not vote against raw hate by cancelling their nytimes subscription?

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