Donald Trump kicked off his postelection “thank you tour” with a Thursday-night rally that sounded a lot like any of his campaign rallies. He said trade was dangerous, he warned about refugees, and his mention of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, prompted supporters to chant “lock her up.”
As was the case at many times on the campaign trail, Trump’s presentation of facts requires some fact-checking and context. Here’s a look at the president-elect’s Thursday-night speech.
“We’ll compete in the world. We want to compete in the world. But we’re going to compete in the world where it’s a two-way road not a one-way road. The advantages are going to come back to our country, and they haven’t for many many years.”
It’s hard to call trade a “one-way road” for the U.S. The U.S. has received lots of advantages from trade, although many of those benefits are hard to see.
It’s a point economists generally agree on: In a 2012 survey, 85 percent of top economists agreed that “freer trade improves productive efficiency and offers consumers better choices, and in the long run these gains are much larger than any effects on employment.” Likewise, 85 percent also agreed that “on average, citizens of the U.S. have been better off with the North American Free Trade Agreement” than they would have been without it — and as he did often during the campaign, Trump continued to slam NAFTA Thursday night.
But what’s important is that those economists were speaking in the aggregate — they were talking about Americans altogether getting their goods more cheaply and having a better standard of living, for example. Particular Americans are still worse off because of trade deals.
When a U.S. factory moves overseas, it leaves the Americans who worked there jobless. It doesn’t mean trade is bad, but it does mean that it doesn’t benefit everyone equally and does indeed hurt some people.
“A shrinking workforce and flat wages are not the new normal. And we’re not even talking about flat. … Some of you in this audience [of] hardworking incredible Americans were making more money 20 years ago than you’re making today.”
This one we can take piece by piece. For starters, the workforce is growing (in raw numbers). Presumably, Trump is referring to the “labor force participation rate,” which he also referenced sometimes on the campaign trail. That is smaller than it used to be, though it has leveled off recently … and either way, the falling rate is not entirely a bad thing.
The labor force participation rate measures the share of people 16 and older who either have work or are looking for work. After years of decline, the figure has stabilized in the past year or so. Some of that decline wasn’t good — that is, it reflected people getting discouraged and giving up on the job search. However, some of the decline reflects demographic realities — in this case, the fact that baby boomers have started edging into retirement. That’s not a bad thing.
As for the wages part, it’s true that many Americans aren’t earning as much as they used to. The median household income as of 2015 was $56,516, still below a peak of $57,909 reached in 1999 (in 2015 dollars). To take Trump literally, that median is still above where it was exactly 20 years ago, but it’s plausible that some Americans are earning less than they did back then. (That said, last year’s median income figure was strong reading, considering that it was up by nearly $3,000 over 2014.)
Of course, that’s overall household income. As far as hourly wages themselves, it is true that wage growth has been slower than it used to be. Since the recession, wages have struggled to creep much above inflation. But just in the past year, wages have risen 2.5 percent.
“We are going to reduce taxes … for the middle class in particular but for our companies.”
In its latest form, Trump’s tax plan does reduce taxes for the middle class, but not “in particular.” In fact, it’s much kinder to the highest-income Americans than to anyone else, according to an October analysis from the Tax Policy Center.
It found that the middle 20 percent of earners would see their after-tax incomes go up by 1.8 percent under Trump’s plan. The next 20 percent upward would see an increase of 2.2 percent, and the top 20 percent would see their incomes jump by 6.6 percent. At the very highest levels, among the top 0.1 percent, after-tax incomes would rise by 14.2 percent. Long story short: The higher the income group, the bigger the tax break in general.
Trump has proposed a major corporate tax cut, as he indicates here. His plan would bring the top federal corporate income tax rate down to 15 percent from 35 percent. (Many businesses actually pay a much lower effective tax rate than 35 percent, thanks to deductions and other loopholes.)
All of that said, his tax plan has already changed once, and it seems that it could again. Trump’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, told CNBC this week that there won’t be an “absolute” tax cut for the rich:
“Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions. … There will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class. There will be a big tax cut for the middle class, but any tax cuts we have for the upper class will be offset by less deductions that pay for it.”
“The African-American community was so great to me in this election. They were so great to me. … And I got it up to a number that’s higher than all of the Republican candidates for years. And the Hispanic community, I did great with the Hispanic community. Great. Higher than people that were supposed to have done well. I felt it. And is this really a big surprise? We did great with women. Can you believe it? Great with women.”
Donald Trump got 8 percent of the African-American vote, according to exit polls. That’s better than Mitt Romney’s exit poll result in 2012 (6 percent) and John McCain’s (4 percent) in 2008 (that said, these are differences of only a few points, so it may not be meaningful). But prior to McCain, 8 percent is no better than any Republican stretching back to 1972, at least, performed among African-American Republicans, according to exit poll data compiled by the New York Times.
The exit polls do show that Trump did far better with Hispanics than many had expected, especially in light of some of his inflammatory statements about immigration. Twenty-eight percent of Latino voters voted for Trump, according to those polls. That’s about how Romney performed among that group — he got 27 percent. And it’s far better than Trump was polling with Latinos before Election Day. Polling firm Latino Decisions had him with 18 percent of Latinos’ support in the week ahead of the election.
That’s one reason why groups like Latino Decisions have called the exit poll results into question, saying that exit polls are poor measures of smaller demographic subgroups, as well as that exit polls don’t reach areas where high concentrations of Hispanics live.
As far as women are concerned, Trump got 41 percent of their vote. That’s not remarkable for a Republican candidate; exit polls showed Romney with 44 percent of women’s votes in 2012, and 41 percent is also right in the ballpark of how women have voted for Republican presidential candidates since 1992.
“People are pouring in from regions of the Middle East — we have no idea who they are, where they come from what they are thinking and we are going to stop that dead cold. … These are stupid refugee programs created by stupid politicians.”
Much of the criticism surrounding the U.S. refugee program these days surrounds the resettlement of Syrian refugees. As NPR’s Brian Naylor reported in November 2015, it takes around 18 to 24 months for a refugee to go through the U.S. screening process. At that time, the U.S. had admitted 1,800 Syrian refugees over two years, half of whom were children.
So “pouring in” is not correct here, as is the assertion that “we have no idea who they are.” However, some experts have voiced concerns that the lack of American intelligence resources in Syria means, as Naylor reported, “there’s no way to compile a thorough watch list of possible terrorists from Syria against which refugees can be checked.”