Our embattled president, just two days removed from the detonation of the latest in a series of Russia-related landmines that continue to dog his administration, claimed yesterday that he has “done more in five months than practically any president in history.” (He’s been President for about 6 months, but who’s counting?)
What was the basis of this claim, aside from the usual Trump bombast? Well, according to the man himself:
If you look at Iraq and if you look at Syria and you see the progress we’ve made with ISIS, it’s been almost complete […] The White House is functioning beautifully. The stock market has hit a new high. Job numbers are the best they’ve been in 16 years. We have a Supreme Court judge already confirmed. Energy is doing levels that we’ve never done before. Our military is doing well. We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS, which Obama wasn’t. There’s not a thing that we’re not doing well in.
Seems like pretty compelling evidence, I know. But just for the sake of argument, let’s take a closer look at each of his claims and see how married to reality they are.
1. “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS”
It’s true that the retaking of Mosul (the functional capital of the Islamic State) is a huge blow to ISIS, one from which the terrorist group may not recover. The loss of Mosul means that ISIS no longer has a base camp to bring in and train new recruits, nor does it hold any strategically significant ground.
But contrary to Trump’s claims, the job is not “almost complete.” The job is about halfway done. ISIS’ fall from power may be almost complete, but eliminating one terrorist organization is not enough — the more important part of the task is the post-war rebuilding effort. It’s all well and good to render aid to Iraq and Syria when they’re in danger of being overrun by radical terrorist groups, but that’s treating the symptom, not the disease (the disease being the underlying conditions that serve as a breeding ground for extremist groups to form and assume power in a given region).
You would think we’d have learned our lesson by now. In the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. offered back-channel support (primarily arms, training, and funding) for the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union. Once that was done, though, we didn’t stick around to help Afghanistan rebuild and establish a democracy — we pulled all of our support and left them holding the bag. This power vacuum was eventually filled by the Taliban, which was largely specific to Afghanistan, and by Al-Qaeda, which was a more “pure” terrorist organization with a global scope. And they rose to power, in part, by playing on anti-Western sentiment, pointing out (accurately, I might add) that America had used them as pawns to gain an advantage over the Soviet Union.
The same thing happened in Iraq post-Saddam, and in plenty of other countries. We have gained a reputation as a fair-weather ally: we claim moral superiority, but in truth will only help others when it is in our own interests to do so. ISIS is just the latest chapter in this ongoing saga; in order to avoid a rehash of this with the next big terrorist group, we need to do more to help Iraq rebuild. Verdict: Partial credit.
2. “The White House Is functioning beautifully”
Sure, if your definition of “beautifully” is “barely keeping its head above water.” Since Trump’s inauguration, reports from all sides have surfaced about how poorly-run the White House is. Just yesterday, a report surfaced titled “Disorganized White House Blamed for Delay in Sudan Sanctions Decision.”
There have been numerous reports of power struggles and in-fighting in the White House (Bannon vs. Priebus! Kushner vs. Bannon! Priebus vs. Kushner! Miller vs. Priebus! Bannon vs. Miller! Trump vs. Bannon!). I’m not even sure if Sean Spicer still has a job. Hell, Sean Spicer probably isn’t sure if he still has a job. And the Trump administration’s response has been to throw a blanket over the mess so the media can’t report on it. Saying the White House is “functioning beautifully” is like talking about how beautiful your Canadian girlfriend is (and she totally exists, she just can’t come visit right now). Verdict: False.
3. “The stock market has hit a new high”
Technically, yes. But unless you work on Wall Street, you should be concerned about how bullish investors are on the pro-business (i.e., anti-you) legislation that is assumed to be coming down the pike. And some context is in order: when George W. Bush was elected in November 2000, the Dow was near a then-high of 14,642. In January 2009, right after Barack Obama’s inauguration, the Dow was at 9,273; it continued to plummet as a result of the Bush-era housing market collapse — there is usually some carryover between presidents in terms of the Dow, at least until the market can figure out what kind of regulation or policies they can expect — reaching a historical low of 6,547.05 in March 2009. By July 2009, the Dow was at 8,711.82.
And it wouldn’t be unfair to point out that Trump likely benefited from a rising Dow near the end of Obama’s second term. So let’s do some math. The Dow went up by more than 2,000 in a four-month stretch (March - July 2009) under Obama, despite Obama taking office in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in America since the Great Depression. Under Trump, the Dow has risen a little less than 1,500 points in a six-month span (January - July 2017). Verdict: Technically true, if overly (and intentionally) simplistic.
4. “Job numbers are the best they’ve been in 16 years”
Job numbers is kind of a meaningless phrase, since there are a lot of metrics involved. One such metric is the Labor Force Participation rate; as of June 2017, we are at 62.8% under Trump. Based on Trump’s statement, then, the last time the Labor Force Participation Rate was that high or higher would have been in 2001. As it turns out, that’s not the case, because the last time the Labor Force Participation rate was higher was (drumroll, please)…
…Last September. And last March. And last February, and January 2015, and November 2014, and October 2014; the list goes on. In fact, over the last eight years (not even the last 16), the Labor Force Participation rate has been higher than 62.8% a whopping 89 times. Even if you take the highest Labor Force Participation rate under Trump (63%), the Labor Force Participation rate from 2008-2016 was higher than that 77 times.
That said, Trump might be referring to the unemployment rate. In that case, just like with the stock market, he’s technically correct, but he’s ignoring a plethora of other important indicators in order to make that claim. (The Pew Research Center did an in-depth analysis of the ways the unemployment numbers fail to tell the whole story of the economy.) Verdict: True (or false, depending on which numbers you use).
5. “We have a Supreme Court judge already confirmed”
Bragging about the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch is a little like taking credit for the sun rising: unless something goes terribly wrong, that’s what’s supposed to happen. It also doesn’t hurt that Trump has a Republican majority in Congress to help his nominee sail through the confirmation process. (Also, they’re called “justices,” not “judges.”) Verdict: True.
6. “Our military is doing well”
Yes, Donald Trump is trying to take credit for our military doing their jobs, as though they spent the last 8 years sitting in hammocks and sipping rum punch out of coconuts while ISIS walked by them on their way to do terror stuff everywhere. The president’s job in regards to the military is to not screw everything up. That he considers it an achievement that he hasn’t (yet) should tell you all you need to know. Verdict: As true now as it’s always been.
7. “Energy is doing levels that we’ve never done before”
I honestly have no idea what this means. Verdict: What?
For those keeping score at home, the final tally is one half-truth, one blatant falsehood, two true -if-you-ignore-everything-else statements, two truths (both of which — the Supreme Court needs justices; the military is doing its job — are assumed to always be true no matter who’s president), and one nonsense claim that is unverifiable by any tangible metric.
Outside of that, many people also point to Trump’s Executive Orders as accomplishments, conveniently ignoring that when President Obama signed 19 in his first 100 days, many of these same people saw it as proof that Obama was attempting to install a dictatorship. (For the record, Trump signed 28 Executive Orders in his first 100 days.) What’s more, Executive Orders don’t actually accomplish anything — they’re essentially statements of intent. I can announce “I’m going to the store” as many times as I want, but that doesn’t put food in my fridge.
By no useful metric can anyone argue that Donald Trump has done more since taking office than any other president in history; hell, Trump has done less since taking office than the most recent president in history. But I have to admit: given his policy proposals, I’m pretty happy he’s not getting much done.