Before deciding to take a Sharpie to a weather map in his endless quest to avoid admitting error, Donald Trump attempted to do some mark-ups to recent economic history. Last week, amid a hurricane (pun intended) of woeful economic news, Trump leveled an ink-stained finger of blame at the very businesses that are suffering under his tariffs, his trade war, and his generalized bull-in-a-china-shop governing style.
“Mr. Trump’s Blame List is long,” reported Peter Baker for The New York Times. “On top, of course, is Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve — never mind that Mr. Trump was the one who appointed him. Then there are the Democrats, and not to mention the news media. And on Friday, the president added American businesses to the list, arguing that struggling companies have only themselves to blame and are rationalizing their own mistakes by pointing to, just to name an example, Mr. Trump’s multibillion-dollar tariffs and America’s biggest trade war in generations.”
In the owl-infested forest we call the present, this is a special kind of hoot. The tariffs and the trade war, the rollicking uncertainty of Brexit, the arrival of an inverted yield curve in the stock market (which has accurately predicted every recession since 1955), the swelling fragility that is the shell game we call U.S.-style capitalism in general, and this: A report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch clearly indicating that the markets go in the tank on days when Trump tweets more than his usual daily barrage. The markets hate uncertainty, and Trump on Twitter is the East Coast distributor of entirely unnecessary disruption.
While Brexit is not something Trump can control (though he is a vocal fan), it is an accent in the broadening symphony of indicators that are shouting warnings about the condition of the economy. Yet for Trump, reality is a blameless cloud of untouchable orange peace upon which he will waft his way into history, Sharpie in hand to correct any and all who dare question his bigly knowledge of everything.
I’m so old, I remember when the Republican Party cast itself as an unswerving friend to business. It seems we can add that to the ever-lengthening list of That Which Was But Is Now Not:
If the Fed would cut, we would have one of the biggest Stock Market increases in a long time. Badly run and weak companies are smartly blaming these small Tariffs instead of themselves for bad management…and who can really blame them for doing that? Excuses!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
This habit of blame deflection is not the sole province of Trump. During the CNN climate town hall on Wednesday night, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren forcefully blew the lid off the idea that consumers must bear the blame for the state of the environment. The altogether glorious moment came when Chris Cuomo, one of the town hall hosts, became the first golf ball in history to put itself on a tee.
“Today the president announced plans to roll back energy-saving lightbulbs,” said Cuomo to Warren, “and he wants to reintroduce four different kinds. Do you think that the government should be in the business of telling you what kind of lightbulb you can have?”
Warren, in response, went full No Time For Your Bullshit, Chris. “Oh, come on, give me a break,” she began, before cracking off one of the more important moments of the evening:
This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about. That’s what they want us to talk about. “This is your problem.” They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers. When 70 percent of the pollution of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air comes from three industries, and we can set our targets and say, by 2028, 2030, and 2035, no more. Think about that. Right there.
Now, the other 30 percent, we still got to work on. Oh, no, we don’t stop at 70 percent. But the point is, that’s where we need to focus. And why don’t we focus there? It’s corruption. It’s these giant corporations that keep hiring the PR firms that — everybody has fun with it, right, gets it all out there — so we don’t look at who’s still making the big bucks off polluting our Earth.
That this happened live on a major network was a shining rhetorical moment for, well, everyone who drinks water, breathes air and has to shop for food in our plastics-infused consumer wasteland. Business owners had no cameras on them when Trump laid blame for the state of the economy at their feet last week, but I’d bet long green the reaction from many of them mirrored that of Elizabeth Warren: “Oh, come on, give me a break.”
Trump blaming businesses for the failures of his economic policies, polluters blaming consumers for the state of the environment, is all of a piece: The captain of the Titanic blaming the passengers for the iceberg. Both Trump and the polluters have a great deal of power and money to fling their blame-shifting into the zeitgeist. Please don’t fall for it; blaming the victims is a filthy practice in any context.