Americans are not better off

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2020

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By Jack Bernard

Bernard is a retired corporate executive

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”- Ronald Reagan, 1980

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter was tied with Ronald Reagan in the polling. Then came the debate one week before the election and Reagan’s famous line.

Everyone knew that America was in a mess, with multiple problems both domestic and foreign. Voters wanted change. Reagan won the election in a landslide, winning almost every state.

Biden is not a charismatic figure for many Democrats like Reagan was for the right. But he is likeable, as was Reagan. You can disagree with his many of his policies (I do) and still smile along with him.

Trump is the least likeable President in my memory. The majority (53%) of Americans of all political persuasions don’t like the way he conducts himself in office… and even 73% of Republicans view him as “self-centered” (

Let’s analyze what Trump promised in 2015 and what he delivered. He sent a fund-raising letter to me several months ago listing his accomplishments:

  1. “Passing the historic tax reform package that immediately paid huge dividends for millions of hard-working families.”
  2. “Driving down unemployment below 4% and creating more than six million new jobs.”
  3. “Nominating and confirming…judges.”
  4. “Replace(d) NAFTA with a new, better deal…”
  5. Beginning to rebuild our military that the Obama administration gutted and standing up for American interests around the world.”

    We all know that he has totally mismanaged the COVID-19 epidemic. But what about his self-proclaimed accomplishments? Are they still both accurate and significant enough to reelect him? Let’s review each one:

  • The New York Times surveyed Americans in 2019 and only 40% said they benefited from the tax cut. In fact, 65% did get a cut of sorts. However, the cuts were disproportional, with the highest income taxpayers getting much more. Per Forbes (7-23-19): “The richest 1 percent received 9.3 percent of the total tax cuts, the top 5 percent got 26.5 percent, the top quintile received 52.2 percent and the bottom quintile got 3.3 percent.” Furthermore, these cuts resulted in much greater deficits (debt) with the national debt pre-pandemic going to over $1 trillion this year, about double what it was in Obama’s last year in office. Now, it will be over $3 trillion, the highest ever. Remember, Trump declared in 2016 that he would pay off the deficit, period.
  • Pre-pandemic, unemployment was down to 3.6%, but this was simply a continuation of a decade long trend started under Obama who cut unemployment dramatically. Due to the Great Recession, unemployment hit 10% in 2009. It has been going down every year since, with unemployment already down to 5%, less than half, when Trump took office. As for jobs, President Obama created 8.9 million jobs. Pre-pandemic, Trump created 4.7 million, roughly comparable (the Balance, 1-3-20). But that was before the coronavirus recession (which is worse here than in other nations due to Trump’s mishandling), causing unemployment to soar to record levels, nearly 15% (it’s taken until August to get it to fall to 8.4%, still 50% higher than under Obama). And don’t be fooled by recent job numbers (we added 1.4 million jobs in August); because Trump failed to control COVID, we had immense job losses, 22 million, much more than Trump ever created.
  • Trump and McConnell have pushed through a record number of judges, a number of them unqualified. They have disregarded Senate rules and traditions in not requiring 60% to approve lifetime appointments, something that will come back to haunt them when the Democrats take over the Senate.
  • The US International Trade Commission (USITC) has quantified benefits of the NAFTA replacement deal, USMCA. USITC found only minor benefits; it is very little different than the original deal.
  • The military was strong when Obama was in office and remains strong now, despite confusing policy signals from the White House. Military spending actually went up significantly during Obama’s first term (and down in his second). As for “standing up for American interests,” President Trump has been a dismal failure. Our allies view the President as a bad joke, as reflected in numerous surveys of their citizens. He has weakened NATO. His self-serving attempt to influence the Ukrainians by withholding military funding was a disaster. His negotiations with North Korea have simply given Kim an opportunity to further develop his nuclear program. By dropping the Iranian nuclear treaty, the Administration has guaranteed a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race. And, the Philippines are moving much closer to China, which is expanding its nuclear capability.

Voters will have to choose between the two main Presidential candidates in November. “Are you better off?” Objectively, the answer should be a resounding “No” for most Americans of both political parties.