At Donald Trump's bizarre press conference this week, before defending racist activists, a reporter asked the president how concerned he is about race relations in America. Trump started by taking another cheap shot at President Obama -- the subject of his ongoing obsession -- before sharing his vision on how race relations can improve.
"I believe that the fact that I brought in -- it will be soon, millions of jobs, you see where companies are moving back into our country, I think that's going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations," Trump said. After a series of related economic claims, he added, "I think that's going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations. You know why? It's jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay. And when they have that, you watch how race relations will be."
There are, of course, a couple of glaring problems here. First, job creation since he took office isn't nearly as good as he thinks it is. Second, as the Washington Post noted, Trump's plan for improving race relations is at odds with reality.
Jobs are not magic fairy dust that can cure everything. Racism is a deeper problem than just economics. Even in periods of strong employment and economic growth, the United States and other nations have still experienced ugly flare ups of hate crimes and riots.“Jobs don't cure the fundamental problems that ail us,” says economist Diane Swonk, who runs DS Economics. [...]Jobs are not enough to bridge the deep racial divide. In theory, a booming economy should help reduce poverty and inequality, but racial tensions are more than just an inequality problem.
Vox had a related piece yesterday, highlighting a 1998 study that found, throughout American history, there's been no meaningful correlation between the strength of the economy and domestic racial tensions.
Even at face value, Trump's pitch is odd. As the president is quick to remind the public, the current employment rate is at a 16-year low. By his reasoning, this should mean that race relations in the United States are great and getting better.
Except, as Trump seems willing to concede, that's plainly not the case. In other words, the president's plan to improve race relations is to do what's already been done -- which clearly isn't a credible solution.
There seems to be a strain of thought in Republican politics that says job creation is the solution to practically every problem. In 2015, for example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said low unemployment in New Hampshire would help solve the state's addiction crisis. "If you work all day long, you don’t have time to do heroin,” the Kentucky senator argued.
This was dumb for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the unemployment rate in New Hampshire at the time was 3.1%, well below the national average.
The point is not that job creation is somehow unimportant. Low unemployment helps the country in a wide variety of ways and should always be a top priority for policymakers. But Donald Trump is inflaming racial tensions in alarming ways, and if he's convinced the low jobless rate he inherited from Obama will help solve society's ills, the president is going to be disappointed.