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Why Trump's weird appearance in the briefing room matters

If Trump looks at Wall Street, instead of cars lined up at food banks, and assumes that the economy is fine, many families will suffer unnecessarily.
Image: Donald Trump, NAT Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Nov. 5, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

When the White House announced that Donald Trump would make an unexpected appearance in the press briefing room this afternoon, there were plenty of questions about what the outgoing president might say. Would he concede? Would he announce some new scheme in the hopes of holding onto power? Were there new developments of note regarding a coronavirus vaccine?

As it turns out, no. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, one of the leading stock market indexes, topped 30,000 this morning, so the president decided to throw an exceedingly short celebration in the briefing room.

Trump, who is facing mounting pressure to publicly concede, cheered the stock market rally Tuesday, telling reporters in the White House briefing room he wanted to "congratulate the people of our country because there are no people like you," and called the Dow's milestone a "sacred number."

I've seen quite a few presidential appearances behind that podium over the years, but this was the strangest. Trump strolled in, spoke for almost exactly one minute, took no questions, and walked away. The only thing he addressed was the Dow Jones topping 30,000.

The whole appearance was basically a tweet in speech form.

So why do I care? It's not because the Republican president still doesn't appreciate the differences between the stock market and the economy, though that's important. It's also not because he doesn't appear to have any idea what "sacred" means, though that's amusing.

It's not because Trump repeatedly told voters that Wall Street would "crash" and "collapse" if Biden won the election, though that's certainly notable. It's not even because Trump tried to take credit for stock market gains during his 2016 transition period, which would necessarily mean that he should give Biden credit for the gains we're seeing now.

Even if we put all of those angles aside, what struck me as important about this is the fact that the economy is still struggling badly, and it's still up to federal policymakers to consider an economic aid package before the end of the year. Progress has been elusive, in part because the president has been entirely disengaged from the negotiations.

If Trump looks at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, instead of cars lined up at food banks, and assumes that the economy is fine, many families are poised to experience additional suffering that should be avoided.