The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly topped 22,000 this morning, which is notable to the extent that people like round numbers, but there’s also an increasing political relevance to the Wall Street figures – because Donald Trump’s interest in them borders on obsession.
When the president officially welcomed John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff this week, a reporter asked what he expects to be different after the change in leadership. Trump almost immediately began talking about Wall Street. “If you look at stock markets – the highest it’s ever been,” the president said. Moments later, Trump added, “Strongest stock market ever. On Friday, we hit the highest in the history of the stock market.”
Remember, the question was about what Kelly might change in the West Wing. No one asked about Wall Street, but it was what Trump wanted to talk about anyway.
On Twitter, it sometimes seems as if the president thinks of little else. Trump tweeted about the stock market yesterday, and the day before, and two days before that. On July 15, the president used Twitter to talk about the stock market three times in one afternoon – and that doesn’t include Fox News’ coverage of Wall Street, which Trump has retweeted.
Let’s get a few things straight.
1. The stock market is not a presidential report card. Though Trump administration officials have explicitly argued otherwise, to see the markets as a barometer of economic health is a mistake. Sometimes the markets go up during tough economic times, sometimes they go down during good economic times.
2. Live by Wall Street, die by Wall Street. Will Trump World continue to see the markets as the only metric that matters if there’s a correction? Somehow, I doubt it.
3. Obama. Under Trump’s predecessor, the markets nearly tripled in value. If Wall Street performance is a measure of a president’s economic successes, Trump must see Barack Obama as a legendary genius.
4. We still remember Trump’s pre-election rhetoric. As recently as last year, Candidate Trump said the markets were inflated, stuck in a “bubble,” and poised to crash. Whatever happened to those concerns?
5. Roosters like taking credit for the sunrise, but that doesn’t make it so. Yes, the markets have steadily gained this year, just as they’ve steadily gained in recent years. Is there any reason to believe this is a reflection of Trump’s policies? Given that the president hasn’t actually done anything in terms of economic policy, it’s a stretch.
To be sure, as regular readers know, I made occasional note of the markets’ performance during the Obama era, not because I saw Wall Street as a perfect guide, but because Republican rhetoric was so detached from reality. What’s more, the apples-to-apples comparison doesn’t work: Obama had all kinds of policies that had a dramatic impact on the economy, and at least for now, Trump hasn’t.
Something to keep in mind before the president starts tweeting again.