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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.


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 Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/18/2018

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  • Jfish
    January 18, 2018 at 7:35 a.m.

    I would guess that at least 75% of Americans vote with their pocketbooks, so there is your answer. We also think short term and we want our new pickup or our new deck now, not in two or four years. Our politicians are no different and know that they will be voted out if they try to enact some long term strategy like was laid out in the Simpson-Bowles Report. So, unless things change dramatically, the man who you for some unknown reason continually refer to as the preposterous second place president might just serve two terms.

  • Rightside
    January 18, 2018 at 7:53 a.m.

    Luis Bracamontes, an illegal alien who had been arrested and deported multiple times in Arizona, went on a crime spree in Sacramento that ended with two police officers killed.
    “I wish I had killed more of the mother-------,” he boasted to the jury as prosecutor Rod Norgaard described the 2014 crime spree.
    Smiling broadly, Bracamontes added, “I will break out soon and I will kill more, kill whoever gets in front of me...There’s no need for a f------ trial.” These illegals are the kind of people some democrats want to flood our country with.

    How about selecting immigrants that are selected based on their merit and skills, not ones who sneak into our country and are uneducated and no skills.
    Obama had no problem with utterly destroying Libya a brown skinned people. Obama called Libya a “s*** show."

    Apple also announced that it plans to invest $30 billion in capital spending in the U.S. over the next five years, by creating 20,000 new jobs and building a new campus. And will pay a one-time tax of $38 billion on its overseas cash holdings. Apple also told employees Wednesday it is issuing each of them a bonus of $2,500 in restricted stock.
    Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi has called the bonuses Announced by U.S Corporations as the Result of the GOP’s Tax Plan “Crumbs." Yes $2500 is just Crumbs to her since her net worth is $120 million now after working in Congress all these years.

  • BoudinMan
    January 18, 2018 at 8:02 a.m.

    If Americans truly voted with their pocketbooks, there would be very few repubs in office. Cheetolini seems hell bent on repeating the same economic mistakes that Geo. W made. The results will be just as disastrous. The only difference will be that there will be a different democrat elected to clean up the mess.

  • hah406
    January 18, 2018 at 8:29 a.m.

    Rightside, you are truly an ignorant idiot. You bring up a single case of a very evil man who happened to be in the country illegally. So what is your answer for the unmitigated evil committed by that couple in CA against their kids. They were as white as can be. Can we blame that on illegal immigration as well?
    The fact is Democrats do not want to "flood our country" with people like him. What we want to do is to do the right thing, the proper, moral thing, and keep the dreamers who were brought here as children in the US. They don't know any other country. Have no memory of living anywhere else. It is the decent thing to do. Instead, people like you and the immoral coward Cotton have taken them hostage. Well, you don't take a hostage you aren't willing to kill. Kill the dreamers by deporting them, against the will of 80% of the country, and see what happens come election time.

  • TimberTopper
    January 18, 2018 at 8:58 a.m.

    John, another good thought provoking article. Seems the haters came pretty quick. You sure get their goat with that "second placed POTUS statement every time". As has been said, the truth hurts sometimes. When they and their leader send all those out of the country that they want to expel, I wonder what they plan to eat. If they do not grow their own food, chances are they will be hungry in a very short time. The haters just seem to be afraid of so much, and so many things in life. It could get to the point we have to take out those words,' and the home of the brave" from our National Anthem.

  • PopMom
    January 18, 2018 at 9:03 a.m.

    I would argue that the economy is still a continuation of the Obama administration. Soon though, we will start to feel the effects of Trump as the new tax code kicks into effect.
    When the Republicans start cutting into entitlements, then poor states such as Arkansas will be hurt. When we choose to increase the debt, we are just kicking the can down the road as far as what we owe. Our 401ks look good, but I know that the U.S. debt is partially owned by me.

    Building the wall is not the solution--especially since the Coast Guard budget has been cut. People who commit violent crimes should be put away. We can decrease the number of people in prison by improving the public schools and social services.

  • GeneralMac
    January 18, 2018 at 9:06 a.m. sound like a whining second grader with your constant.." second place president"

    Grow up !

  • GeneralMac
    January 18, 2018 at 9:12 a.m.

    PopMom........." People who commit violent crimes should be put away "

    I don't recall you stating that when Lil Boosi was out shooting at a cop with only a 5PM curfew as restraint after being charged for violent crimes.

  • Rightside
    January 18, 2018 at 9:12 a.m.

    hah406: I didn't mention the dreamers. A deal will be worked out where they can stay. So do you want more illegals or legal immigrants ? More uneducated and no skills people or some with basic education and a skill? More chain migration or less? End the Visa Lottery or not?
    Senator Cotton says he would support the legalization of all current DACA recipients -- nearly 800,000 of them -- if Congress would at the same time pass measures to protect Americans workers from the effects of that legalization. "in any legislative fix, I would like to see them receive a green card."

  • GeneralMac
    January 18, 2018 at 9:30 a.m.

    hah406..........." deported multiple times"

    Anyone who is deported should have a readily visible tattoo/brand placed on them.
    Thus he would be easily recognized if he chose to keep coming back.

    Liberals don't care if ILLEGALS kill Americans.
    Observe the attitude of the sanctuary city San Francisco City Council members after the ILLEGAL shot the tourist.