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The Trump presidency has been good for the economy and bad for the culture. That's the trade.

An economy fluctuates. A culture evolves or erodes.

Do you prefer short-term cash for your pocket or longer-term decency for the country? If that's the choice, I mean, which it seems to be with Donald Trump.


The national economic condition tends to be an interim matter affected inconclusively by politics except in crisis. Ronald Reagan cut taxes and met a probably cyclical recession. Bill Clinton raised taxes on high incomes and met a dot-com boom that he very likely had little or nothing to do with.

What you don't want is for an economy to collapse, as it did at the end of George W. Bush's presidency, in part because of lax regulatory policies, some permitted by Bush and some, like Glass-Steagall's repeal, dating back to Clinton.

But, if the economy collapses, you want a reversal of policy course that will restore it, even if slowly, as happened with Barack Obama's early-Keynesian presidency.

Assigning political credit or blame for good or bad economic conditions is inexact and perilous. It's safest to say politics can probably hurt an economy more than help it, unless it's to lift it from collapse, as accomplished by FDR and Obama.

So we should be happy that the stock market flirts with 26,000. Responsible retirement savings are enhanced. Earnings can be used to get a new deck built, which sells lumber and employs carpenters, who might buy groceries, or school clothes for the kids, or beers, or save for a new pickup.

To the extent that Trump is responsible for getting that new deck built, by promising a big tax cut to the equity class and thereby buoying that equity class into bullish investment, then one should appreciate the president.

Come spring, when a man sits on a beautiful new deck and sips a red wine and pets his beagles and beholds the explosion of fluffy baby-blue and purple hydrangeas, then that man should raise that glass to his preposterous second-place president.

Then, after sipping, the man should take a thoughtful moment to lament the debasement of the American culture caused by that man he just toasted.

How can a president lift or harm the culture more evidently and lastingly than he can lift or harm the economy?

It's because we look upon our presidents more in the context of a cult of personality than in the context of economic theory. Not everyone has command of economic policy, but nearly everyone has a confident opinion of a president's behavior from that president's ubiquitous presence in the media and the popular culture.

And it's because an economy will vary more naturally than a culture can reverse erosion. Once the musical stars have started grabbing their crotches, it's next to impossible to get them to stop, until, presumably, they start grabbing someone else's.

Take, please, the storyline of the week--the Dreamers and the "bleephole."

There should have been no political negotiation at all on that. Those people called Dreamers, brought here innocently as children and behaving responsibly, should have had their permission to remain here codified in a simple and easily passed one-subject bill.

But, since the Republicans insisted on a negotiation--on getting something in exchange for doing right--U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham and a few others worked up a decent-enough compromise. It would have given this president several hundred million dollars for his border wall that he still says the Mexicans will reimburse.

But Trump--pliably influenced by a couple of hard-right senators including Our Boy Tom Cotton, who didn't like the deal because he wanted caps on legal immigration and a merit system of admittance--not only resisted the deal, but, by his demeaning and destructive style, blew it up.

Trump did so because he lacks any core policy belief and is motivated above all else by an egomaniacal disorder that makes him obsessive about achieving perceived victory. If someone tells him the deal will make him look weak, then he will kill the deal--not because he is any more opposed to it than he had favored it hours before, but because he has but one consuming objective, which is to be the perceived winner.

By his behavior, he also threatened to destroy any chance of a meaningful negotiation to enact a spending bill to keep the government open.

So, while the stock market gloriously topped 26,000, the country:

  1. Sent a message of vulgar ridicule to poor and underdeveloped countries to whom it once offered compassion and hope.
  2. Blundered on a simple assignment to do the right thing by blameless people in its population.
  3. Spent days reducing its civic discourse to "bleepholes."

And there you have the simple one-two-three on today's happy economic condition being less important than the sad debasement of our eroding culture.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/18/2018

Print Headline: Economy or culture?

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