May 27, 2020 | Reading Time: < 1 minute

Does the economy matter in 2020?

Peter Coy has a big piece in Businessweek touching on a familiar frame: health vs. wealth. He says the president is gambling on a recharged economy powering him back to the White House. But this framing, and the conventional wisdom it rests on, seems stale. “It’s the economy, stupid” used to have legs, but economic…

Share this article

Peter Coy has a big piece in Businessweek touching on a familiar frame: health vs. wealth. He says the president is gambling on a recharged economy powering him back to the White House.

But this framing, and the conventional wisdom it rests on, seems stale. “It’s the economy, stupid” used to have legs, but economic performance and presidential performance are on different tracks now.

Is the president making the wrong choice? Or is there something more going on?

What are your thoughts?

PS: Some of my students at Wesleyan are going to participate in this thread, so please be on your best behavior. I don’t mean that you can’t cuss. Just be respectful—and of course interesting!

—John Stoehr


  1. Gus A Rousonelos on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    He made the wrong choice: Try to save the economy during a once in a hundred years pandemic (impossible task) or get experts to take over the pandemic plan and limit deaths and then he gets to take credit for being the leader who managed to get us through a deadly crisis (the plan was there, it was a slam dunk) and he would have been reelected easily. He’s a reactor, not a long term strategist.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      I remember when polls showed Republicans grading the economy as terrible during the last months of Obama’s presidency. Everyone thought this showed “economic anxiety” and the reason why Trump beat Clinton in the Midwest. Then in the month before his inauguration, the tracks flipped. In one month, Republicans saw a much better economy. Amazing!

      • Gus A Rousonelos on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

        Have you read “How Fascism Works” by Jason Stanley? The Republicans have created a classic Us vs Them, and our country stumbles blindly from a liberal democracy to a fascist state. We are in crisis. The Republican politicians are all right wing extremists now. No moderates and certainly no liberal or “radical” Republicans. The Democratic politicians are a mixture of far left to conservative (Joe Manchin), POC, recent immigrants, LGBTQ, labor unions, women, environmentalists, etc. The days of politicak compromise I grew up with that led to the Civil Rights Bill are over. A liberal democracy depends on us not demonizing the other side. It’s gone too far.

        • Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

          If we shouldn’t demonize them then what should we do? For the record, I like demonizing them because 1) it feels good & 2) they deserve it because they’re a-holes.

          • Bill on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Johnny will not, has no desire to learn to read. Johnny is economically disadvantaged, doesn’t care to learn, sees no benefit in changing his behavior, is self-absorbed, stupid, an a*hole. If you are consistently telling Johnny he’s an a*hole, or stupid, we eliminate the possibility of teaching Johnny to read. As soon as Johnny feels threatened, he calls you names, or leaves slamming the door. No discussion, no opportunity to reach johnny since he had decided who we are by calling him stupid.

          • John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Here’s a better re-write of this Bill: Johnny has plenty of opportunity – more than pretty much 95% of the people who have ever lived on the planet – Johnny CAN evolve but Johnny chooses not to out of sloth and racism. Johnny finds a dangerous “Leader” who will game the system to his benefit and to stoke Johnny’s lazy resentments. Because of Johnny’s lazy race based entitlement he thinks his life is valued above others so shrugs as women lose their bodily autonomy, racism is encouraged, the NEW rights won by gay people are lessened or repealed, children of immigrants are kidnapped and disappeared, cops murder black americans, the incremental gains around healthcare are withdrawn and 100,000 die from a mismanaged pandemic response. But Johnny likes the “leader” who encourages all these horrifying outcomes.

            Johnny who in reality is plenty smart, lives in a wildly wealthy moment in human history, DOES know better and DOES know the right from wrong but is too lazy and entitled to be bothered – so Johnny looks the other way as the “leader” destroys the nation, the future degraded, the planet ruined, the Enlightenment itself is stomped out – all so he can remain first in line, buy crates of pizzas at Costco and think, weirdly, that he is ‘owning the libs’.

            No, bill. We are WAY PAST “let’s try to understand the white people trying to kill us” phase. If war is what they want, war is what they will end up getting. They lost in 1865 and 1945 , if they don’t wake up and start behaving like sane citizens they will lose again.

            FUCK JOHNNNY.

          • Bill on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Your points are 100 accurate as to what many Americans have become. So you all or nothing solution is?

          • John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Attack them. Defeat them. Destroy them. Just like 1865 and 1945. The civil war has already begun. You are welcome to live in 1995 as long as you like – the rest of us have a civilization to save.


          • Bill on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            It’s useful to think this through. Violence begets violence. Read Heather Cox Richardson or visit the Ted talk and Uplift apps. Peace.

        • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

          Hi Gus, that book has been every important to my thinking. As to the problem of what to do with a demonizer (demonize in kind?) check out today’s edition:

          • Gus A Rousonelos on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Just read it. Loved it. Barbarism is descriptive and easily understood. Fascism is a hot button word.

          • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Thank you.

        • John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

          I too am “pro – demonization” for the tactical reason that being on and staying on offense is the only tactic that works against bullies – which is in the end all that fascist are.

          When trump is on the defensive we win…if we kept him on the defensive 24/7/ he’d come unacceptably (even for GOPS ) unhinged in no time. His ENTIRE game is to keep Democrats in a state of outrage and defensiveness…and it’s worked because liberals and moderates enjoy being outraged a little too much.

          When Dems calmly punch back and then punch first we win the arguments, the day and eventually the field.

          Trump is not Jim Crowe or the British Raj – he’s closer to Mussolini – the “high road” does not work with wanna be dictators.

        • Bill on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

          Yes, Gus A Liberal Democracy is NOT a dirty word as defined by others. Take your own stand on who you are and what you represent. Do not allow others to define who or what you are when you stake a stand on any humanitarian cause or issue. US Vs them is strangling our country. We must continue to use their words so they can hear themselves as they systematically deny the freedoms of fellow Americans guaranteed by the Constitution. I think the Kapernick & Lloyd kneeling photo supplied by Kobe is a clear illustration that equality is not equal.

      • Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

        Republicans are always able to conveniently conjure up their own “facts” whenever it’s politically expedient to do so.

  2. hw on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    Those most likely to travel, frequent restaurants, book cruises are senior citizens, who have disposable income and free time. They are also the group least likely to venture out before a safe vaccine or therapeutics are available. When you view an economy where an entire segment is choosing to abstain from spending, where tens of thousands of small businesses have folded, where travel will be a fraction of pre-Covid levels, and untold numbers of corporate workers will choose to work remotely with attendant loss of jobs in businesses that support the corporations, it’s clear that we will not see a sustained economic recovery. Regardless of stock market numbers, the inevitable global contraction will last well beyond 2020. Furthermore, Trump’s efforts to push the full blame for the outcome of the virus solely on China will almost certainly result in China breaking any promises in the ‘new trade deal’, leaving Trump with no options, lest he reveals yet another failure of leadership. The same people who brought us to the brink of financial ruin in 2008 are the face of the 2020 economic cheerleading, the same banks, the same corporations, the same brokers. It’s not simply that Trump is making the wrong choice in the wrong way, it’s that he wrongly assumes that everyone shares his craven greed-at-any-cost mentality.

  3. John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    My sense is that in times with no outside stresses the economy drives most the conversation – But now there are 2 elements not in any Americans cultural memory – 1. a lethal highly contagious pandemic. and 2. A bizarre , divisive, authoritarian toddler President that 60% of the electorate rejects steadily. If we had the Westminster system he’d be gone by now.

    Even if the Pre covid allegedly “great” economy were to return by the election (it won’t) it will still be a referendum on Trump and his behavior. Assuming there is no cheating Trump’s only path to victory is the make Biden seem potentially worse -with a big dollop of racism so all of his base shows up. Could THAT work? Yes. But I get the sense that a ECV majority will still find the idea of 4 more years of Trump antics are unacceptable.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      I have argued that most people most of the time have *probably* made up their minds, and have since close to the beginning of his tenure. But that may not matter as much as we might think, because a majority’s will can be nullified with the EC and with cheating.

      • John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

        Agreed… but 70,000 votes in 3 states when polls are within the margin in those states is one thing but – hypothetical – if polls today HOLD until November can they cheat in 5,6, or 7 states – assuming NC, AZ, FLA are in play and PA is blue again…? Sincere question.

  4. beckya57 on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    I’m no expert, but I think the economy is much less relevant this time than usual. I think this election will be about Trump, and nothing else will matter. I still think he has a real chance to “win” in the EC.

  5. Marilyn on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    he always makes the wrong choice..

  6. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    I think the economy will have a major impact stemming from Donald’s and Jared’s incompetence and malfeasance. Its supposed great performance before the pandemic was going to be their signature issue but now that strategy has gone up in smoke. The economy’s destruction will convince some relatively few undecideds that this crew needs to be removed from office.

    Ironically if the economy had continued on with its expected trends before the pandemic, I don’t think it would have swayed too many people one way or another. Everything is just too polarized. Just as a lot of DJT’s voters in 2016 had more tribal concerns than “economic anxiety”, I’m sure that Democratic voters and many independents in 2020 don’t care at all about the state of the economy. They see him and the GOP by extension as a pox to be removed no matter what.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      Many thanks, sir.

  7. John Philpin on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    Of course the economy matters … but the push is on the wrong economy – the economy of Wall Street – not Main Street. The clamor to return to ‘normal’ – heaven help us … we want to return to ‘that’ ? This is the opportunity to change the world of business – it can be done – it’s a human construct … not like Gravity ( see Ribbon Farm ). BUT that is not what people are talking about …

    Moreover …

    Whether the orange one pushes to open or not. Whether the governors, mayors and municipalities choose to open or not. Whether the businesses elect to open or not … it doesn’t matter if customers don’t go and buy.

    A 50% capacity restaurant 100% of the time is not a profitable business … substitute percentages and business type to emphasize your personal mood.

    Right now, the pictures are all focussed on the idiocy and extremes … it’s hard to make news out of millions of people sitting at home.

    Where they do go out and open the businesses we are already seeing upticks in cases. So yes – push away – open up … COVID will continue, businesses won’t get back to ‘normal’ and the chance to move to a Main Street first economy will continue to be postponed.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      This is an excellent response. Thank you.

  8. VillainousVicissitude on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    The economy is one of those vague political buzzwords used to score points in campaigns. We don’t *really* have a single economy. It’s more like the regular person economy and the wealthy person economy. What most point to is Wall Street as a barometer of the economy. Yet that’s a poor indicator for what the average citizen is facing. For decades we have just pretty much accepted the fact that the wealthy are the ones deciding what the meaning of the economy looks like. Meaning they manufacture outrage (taxes on us are socialism!!!!) when something will be to their detriment, and they crow jubilantly when something is to their benefit. The underlying systemic issues may never be fixed. Bit of a tangent I suppose. I blame the writings of Robert Reich. xD

    As far as Trump’s focus, it’s on the economy because that’s his safe space. Despite 6 bankruptcies, he was still able to convince Deutsche Bank to continue provide him purchasing power. He knows the players and the dirty tricks (sue instead of paying, for example). He can’t intelligently speak about anything else. His usual go to is some variant of “I know more about X than anyone. Believe me.” Of course, this is never substantively proven or disproven. His supporters buy it, his detractors laugh, and it all gets lost in the onslaught of absurdity this administration has foisted onto America. It’s not surprising that Trump is unable to understand that there is no economy without basic public health. People need to feel comfortable enough to start shopping, dining out, taking trips, etc. Where he is correct is that the economy is about all he can run on. So he has to tout it, regardless of what the hard truths are. I would imagine his hope is to continue facilitating the same basic scam he has been using since the 1980s. Promise big long enough to get to the next deal/win/check with no real intention of following through. Attempt to intimidate and silence anyone who disagrees or sees past the charade. Blame anything and anyone other than himself for inevitable failure. Ad infinitum.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.