Indifferent to conditions, Trump picks the wrong time to celebrate

Those waiting for Trump to add the obligatory "there's plenty of work still to be done" line were left wanting. He pretended that happy days are here again
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump holds a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 5, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump has several bad habits, but among the most macabre is the frequency with which the president speaks for the dead. Apparently convinced that he's qualified to serve as the Medium in Chief, Trump likes to periodically point at the sky and report on how the deceased are feeling about earthly developments.

The president has done this with such unnerving frequency that the Washington Post's Dana Milbank got a whole column out of the phenomenon last summer, noting, "The next time you are about to ridicule something seemingly foolish that President Trump has said or done ... be forewarned: He has supernatural powers. He sees dead people. He doesn't just see them. He talks to them and relays their thoughts back to the living."

Trump kept this going again this morning, drawing a connection between the new jobs report and the George Floyd, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Trump spoke nearly an hour and only briefly mentioned Floyd.... The president otherwise touted an economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that has disproportionately affected black Americans. "Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country," Trump said. "This is a great day for him. It's a great day for everybody."

MSNBC's Chris Hayes noted soon after, "[Trump] really pointed up to the sky and said today's jobs report marks a great day for a dead man killed by police."

Well, sure, when you put it that way -- which is to say, accurately -- it doesn't sound great.

But it's also worth emphasizing the larger context: the United States has the second highest unemployment rate of the last 80 years; the death toll from the pandemic is nearly 109,000 (and climbing); countless protestors have taken to the nation's streets to condemn racial injustices; and Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to host a celebration in the Rose Garden.

One need not be a strategic genius to see the political dangers of a president taking a victory lap right now. Those waiting for Trump to add the obligatory "there's plenty of work still to be done" line this morning were left wanting; he preferred to pretend that happy days are here again.

What's more, even putting aside the politics, there are real economic risks to consider. It's obviously good news that the latest jobless rate wasn't higher, but there's nothing good about a 13.3% unemployment rate.

There's now reason to believe the economic rescue package, largely written by congressional Democratic leaders, has had a beneficial effect. But Republicans looking at today's BLS report and feeling a sense of complacency have it backwards: policymakers opened a spigot and prevented an even more severe economic collapse, but tightening the spigot now, with the unemployment rate still ridiculously high, could prove disastrous.

Perhaps the most important paragraph in today's jobs report was this one: "The number of unemployed persons who were on temporary layoff decreased by 2.7 million in May to 15.3 million, following a sharp increase of 16.2 million in April. Among those not on temporary layoff, the number of permanent job losers continued to rise, increasing by 295,000 in May to 2.3 million."

In other words, the jobs report looked great because some of the workers who were temporarily laid off in April went back to work in May. But the economy didn't actually add jobs, and the number of Americans who were told they were terminated got quite a bit worse.

And yet, there were Republicans this morning, both on Capitol Hill and in the White House, suggesting there's no longer any need for lawmakers to approve another economic aid package. As Stephen Moore put it, the job numbers take "a lot of the wind out of the sails of any phase 4 -- we don't need it now."

Republicans are now convinced the nation needs less of what worked. It's a tough position to defend.