Well, here we are. During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that aired Wednesday night, President Trump—a man who is currently trying to build support for a massive tax cut aimed at the wealthy—seemed to suggest that rising stock prices had begun to erase the U.S. national debt.
“The country—we took it over and owed over 20 trillion,” Trump said, by way of prelude. “As you know, the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up 5.2 trillion just in the stock market—possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value.”
Picked up the whole thing? Huh? Who is this we of whom you speak? What whole thing?
The president continued: “So you could say in one sense, we’re really increasing values. And maybe in a sense, we’re reducing debt. But we’re very honored by it.”
I sometimes wonder if it’s worth cataloging the vapid things Trump says about the economy. On the one hand, he’s the president. It should matter if he thinks the national debt goes down when the stock market goes up, even in a vague, philosophical sort of way (and to be clear, it does not). On the other hand, anybody reading a center-left website like Slate.com knows that America’s guy in the Oval Office is terminally uninterested in fact or data, except insofar as a number paints his presidency in flattering terms. Remember how the unemployment rate was a fiction, until it wasn’t anymore? This is a man who can only view history and current events as fragments of light endlessly refracted through the prism of his ego. He draws logical connections where none apparently exist, living according to an almost premodern perspective that by merely mouthing an idea, however inarticulate, he makes it real. Maybe this is his power—maybe he really is the übermensch, breaking the chains of our middle-class morality, including the idea that what we say should have some grounding in the world around us, hoisting our politics into the realm of pure myth.
Or maybe this was just word salad, a confused and careless man following his own babble to its own nonsense conclusion, “in a sense.” Thus sprach POTUS.