National affairs correspondent explains the one policy area where Biden should 'imitate' Trump

National affairs correspondent explains the one policy area where Biden should 'imitate' Trump

The presidency of Donald J. Trump officially came to an end when Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States and former Sen. Kamala Harris of California became the country's first female vice president as well as its first Black vice president. Journalist Jeet Heer, in an article published by The Nation on Inauguration Day, has some advice for the new U.S. president: focus heavily on the economy.

Heer stresses that although Trump was a "terrible" president in countless respects, he managed to convince millions of supporters that he cared about their economic needs. Trump campaigned on a pseudo-populist agenda in both 2016 and 2020, repeatedly claiming to care deeply about the American working class. That wasn't enough to prevent him from getting voted out of office in 2020 — Biden won 306 electoral votes and defeated Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote — but as Heer notes, 74 million U.S. residents wanted to give Trump a second term.

"The painful reality is that despite Trump's innumerable terrible acts, there was a significant number of Americans who were willing to give him a second chance," Heer explains. "The question is: why? The most plausible explanation is the economy, where Trump bucked the misguided mainstream consensus that had long held that 4% unemployment was the lowest that could be achieved without triggering inflation. Trump successfully bullied the Federal Reserve to adopt a loose money policy that brought America much closer to full employment and rising real wages before the pandemic hit."

During his many years in U.S. politics, Biden has had a reputation for being a centrist — first in the U.S. Senate, then during his two terms as vice president under President Barack Obama. But Heer argues that if Biden wants to do well as president, he will need to stress economic populism.

"Trump truly didn't care about deficits, which has led liberals to brand him a hypocrite since he had previously accused Democrats of running up the national tab," Heer explains. "But the accusation of hypocrisy only carries a weak sting. Rather than flay Trump as a hypocrite, it would be far better to imitate him as a robust Keynesian."

Heer continues, "The other political lesson that Trump teaches is that there is no reason to be shy when you are giving people money. In previous recessions, presidents like George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not put their names on checks. Trump's insistence that his name appear on stimulus checks was seen as tawdry. That may be the case, but it was also effective politics and helped bolster the strong showing Trump had in polls measuring his management of the economy."

Trump was mocked for saying things like, "I love the poorly educated" — which, rhetorically, was a departure from previous Republican presidents but played well with his MAGA base. Even when he was pushing corporate tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Trump still managed to convince millions of working class MAGA voters that he cared about them.

Biden, according to Heer, should ignore the "deficit hawks" in the months to come and make it clear that he is looking after Americans who are hurting economically.

"Biden would do well to emulate at least some aspects of Trump's policy approach," Heer argues. "Biden should focus on forcing the Federal Reserve to keep with an agenda of full employment and easy money, disregard deficit hawks in his party, loudly hog credit for generous stimulus checks, and keep his promises to his political base. If he does that, he'll have learned the right lessons from the Trump era."


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