- Popularly attributed to P.T. Barnum
- Donald Trump
As Barack Obama left office the economy had “gained jobs for 75 straight months -- the longest streak on record." Of course, that had not stopped his successor from claiming that he had inherited a “mess” with jobs “pouring out of the country.” Still, even as Trump struggled to keep up with the numbers posted during Obama’s last year in office, his unshakable fans acted as if it was his accomplishments alone that had brought us to a point “close to what economists consider full employment.” Then on Friday the Labor Department announced that preliminary numbers show that winning streak has come to an end; “the United States lost 33,000 jobs in September”.
There is a good chance that you may have missed the news and this probably was not an accident. “The White House receives jobs data and other economic statistics through the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) the day ahead of their release” and knew that it would play against his carefully constructed, alternate reality. What better solution than to create confusion by calling the press in for “a last-minute photo op...after the day’s press ‘lid’ was placed for the evening.” He then stirred in a little intrigue by cryptically suggesting that "Maybe it's the calm before the storm." The recipe was completed with a dash of “you’ll find out” when he was asked for clarification.
Unsurprisingly, the press took the bait. Speculation of the meaning of these events dominated the morning news cycle as the jobs numbers were released to the public. Unlike George W. Bush, Trump could accurately declare “mission accomplished”.
This was not the first time that Trump used this page out of his playbook. For example, he had used his first hour in office to overturn an Obama initiative that cut interest premiums on FHA mortgages, saving “eligible homeowners an average of $500 a year.” Since this was a move that ran contrary to his crafted persona of a populist, he needed a distraction. The “alternative fact” of the record-breaking inaugural crowd was born.
With 24 hours to fill, the news media could be providing us with unprecedented access to information. Instead, they allow themselves to be manipulated by Trump, chasing after whatever shiny object they put in front of them. The “failing” New York Times eagerly reported his deal with Carrier “to keep roughly 1,000 jobs in” Indiana, but did little actual reporting on the terms of that deal, which cost the taxpayers “$7 million in state tax credits.” When the actual layoffs were announced in May, it turned out that Trump’s count had “included engineering and headquarters staff whose jobs were never scheduled to leave Indianapolis in the first place.“ Even worse, the $16 million investment that Trump had bragged would bring additional jobs to the area was actually “go toward automation.” Since Carrier only loses their tax credits if they outsource the remaining jobs, making them obsolete will allow them an even greater increase in profits. So much for Trump’s willingness “to take on big business, at least in individual cases.”
As much as Trump complains about the “fake news”, the media has been his greatest asset. Just like in his days as a New York real estate developer, he has figured out the best way to get your way is to control the narrative. It is almost as if every sucker born has been given a reporter’s notebook and a contract with a giant corporation. The independent media may be our only hope.