Is Trump correct? (That’s not even a question)

I’ve already explained this in regard to monetary policy, but like Sisyphus I’ll have to do so over and over again. It makes no sense to discuss the question about whether Trump is “right” about interest rates, coronavirus lockdowns or almost any other subject. Trump doesn’t have opinions on the state of the world; Trump makes statements that he believes are advantageous to his political career. That’s all. They are not opinions on various topics; they are campaign commercials.

Trump has made it very clear that the coronavirus lockdowns are his policy. Trump and only Trump gets to decide when the lockdowns will be lifted. First he said Easter and then he changed that to the end of April.

At the same time, Trump is strongly opposed to the lockdowns. He tweets in support of lockdown protesters in electorally key states.

Some of my commenters don’t know how to interpret Trump. They analyze his comments like he’s a normal human being, where you’d try to ascertain the truth-value of a particular statement. But that’s not what Trump’s about, he’s not normal.

Trump’s support for the lockdown is aimed at voters who support the lockdown. Trump’s simultaneous opposition to the lockdown is aimed at voters who oppose the lockdown. Trump can’t possibly be right or wrong about the lockdown because he doesn’t ever express an actual opinion on the subject.

Similarly, Trump used to complain about low interest rates when he thought it helped the Democrats, and expressed support for low rates when he thought it would help him politically. But Trump’s never, ever, ever, expressed an opinion on whether low interest rates are actually good for the country. Not once.  Indeed I don’t think Trump would even understand what that statement means. “Good for the country?” “You mean good for me?” “I don’t understand the question.”

Whenever I read people discuss whether Trump is right about this or that aspect of reality, I feel sorry for them. They think Trump’s a normal human being, and he isn’t.  Imagine a parrot taught to say “lower interest rates” or “higher interest rates”.  Is the bird right about Fed policy?  What does that question even mean?



26 Responses to “Is Trump correct? (That’s not even a question)”

  1. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    20. April 2020 at 20:38

    Trump is “not normal?”

    Maybe he is the new normal!

    “Coronavirus: Brazil’s Bolsonaro joins anti-lockdown protests”–BBC

    “Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro denounced for joining pro-dictatorship rally
    Far-right president deemed ‘deplorable’ for flouting social distancing rules again – while coughing repeatedly – to bolster protests amid coronavirus”—The Guardian

    Yes, Trump is a nut…but whether he is more nutty than epidemiologists….or establishment Donks and ‘Phants…well, that is not a polite question.

  2. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    21. April 2020 at 02:49

    So say the kibitzers as they watch the shadows cast into their cave by the doers.

  3. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. April 2020 at 03:38

    Plato’s Cave?

  4. Gravatar of Mighty Bobcat Mighty Bobcat
    21. April 2020 at 04:14

    Congratulations, nailed it. Trump is a politician telling people what they want to hear. Just louder and more upfront about it than most.

  5. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    21. April 2020 at 04:47

    I love your mind reading capability on Trump—All he cares about is being re-elected—-i am quite sure he does care about being re-elected—that’s standard practice. This does not mean that is all he cares about, although, due to your great insights you KNOW that is all he cares about. How presumptuous and obnoxious. He is playing the safe game—-give locals power to decides relative to their situation.

    This has quickly switched—as this essay by you indicates—to all politics. On average, pro Trumper want to reopen—on average never Trumpers don’t. I am sure someone can do a study with a p value of .oo1, correlating those whose jobs are safer with a shutdown support shutdown to ‘save lives”

    Meanwhile in NY, the hospitals are already competing to have the most cases so they can get the most money—-it may be not quite fully self aware–but is self aware enough—if you think this is not true, its because you live in Orange County.

    We have entered the corruption phase of this epidemic—and it is a fight to change the nature of our country—that is the subtext—which will gradually become the text itself.

    Your obsession with Trump makes you miss what is actually happening—your bad blog is getting worse.

  6. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    21. April 2020 at 05:18

    have not had time to have an opinion on the santa clara “garbage study’. Is the LA County study also garbage?

  7. Gravatar of Todd Ramsey Todd Ramsey
    21. April 2020 at 06:11

    “Trump makes statements that he believes are advantageous to his political career” probably gives him too much credit. I think some of his tweets simply express his whim at the moment.

    Separately: I think Trump has a bias for lower interest rates because of his career in real estate, and his lack of understanding that the economy has other sectors beyond his narrow focus.

  8. Gravatar of MJ MJ
    21. April 2020 at 06:32

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

  9. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    21. April 2020 at 06:36

    “Trump makes statements that he believes are advantageous to his political career.” Do you not suppose that can be said about many other politicians? Politics in a democracy involves a powerful incentive to “do whatever it takes”–largely a matter of verbal performance–to get elected and re-elected. People who find it less of a psychic strain consistently to misrepresent their own views–to act a part, sometimes disparaged as “lying”–will gravitate towards politics as a career.

  10. Gravatar of Cove77 Cove77
    21. April 2020 at 06:40

    Trump ‘s trying to goad Biden/AOC into a deplorable comment….there’s gonna b a recovery of some sort before Nov and Trump’s gonna claim credit for it

  11. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    21. April 2020 at 08:08

    There’s a lot of truth in this post, but I don’t think it’s entirely correct. I think Trump has an implicit model in which the level of interest rates set by the Fed should be determined by a vague sense of economic growth versus potential, and versus the levels of rates set by other central banks. He’s a very informal mercantalist.

    His “model” is, of course wrong and is not even coherent, but he has one. Sometimes he’s “right” but for the wrong reasons, but he’s never truly correct.

    And also, he’s rarely honest and as far as I can tell, rarely if ever cares about the good of the country or the broader world.

  12. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    21. April 2020 at 08:10


    It is overwhelmingly obvious that Trump is both extremely malicious and stupid.

  13. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    21. April 2020 at 08:21

    @MRulle: not really, Sumner is pretty spot on about Trump. But you’re a fan so you can’t see it. That’s simple partisanship.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. April 2020 at 09:11

    Everyone, LOL at people who think this is politics as usual. Yes, Obama used to frequently send out tweets asking people to protest against Obama’s own policies. Politics is a helluva drug.

    As for those of you “defending” Trump’s views on lockdowns, did you not read the post? He supports lockdowns and he opposes lockdowns. Do you also support and oppose them?

    How about you Ben? You were one saying he was “right” about interest rates. LOL.

    As for people trying to “explain” Trump’s master plan to me, I see the plan. His master plan is to get re-elected, whatever the cost.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. April 2020 at 09:13

    dtoh, Yes, Trump is the philosopher king that Plato promised us, and he’ll deliver 4% RGDP growth any day now. I can hardly wait.

  16. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    21. April 2020 at 12:45


    I’ll bet you a nickel that starting in Q3 we will see real annualized quarter to quarter growth of at least 4% for the remainder of Trump’s first term. 🙂

  17. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    21. April 2020 at 13:22

    He is doing some fancy footwork. Biden will attack him for closing down too late. He’ll deflect that by pointing out the extent of the lockdown and national mobilization he ordered before pivoting to the attack by referencing Biden’s feckless live streams during the crisis. Then he’ll highlight his self-protesting tweets to show how he stayed laser focused on the economic pain inflicted on the average American during the lockdown. And again he’ll go on the attack, portraying Biden as holed up in an ivory tower filled with epidemiologists calling for extending the lockdowns. He’ll have Biden’s head swimming.

    That said, it is absolutely stunning that we have a president who attacks his own policies and gets away with it. It is the purest form of demagoguery I have ever seen in this country.

  18. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    21. April 2020 at 13:51

    I don’t understand how some can think there’s a lot of strategy to anything Trump does, considering that he changes his mind and contradicts himself so often, sometimes even within the same long, rambling statement.

    I think part of his appeal to some is that he’s just as stupid, ignorant, craven, and morally bankrupt as many of his supporters, so they can relate to him in many ways, while aspiring to his level of exaggerated wealth.

  19. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    21. April 2020 at 14:28

    Scott, this is a very funny post. Well put!

  20. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    21. April 2020 at 14:32

    @Michael Sandifer
    I’m not saying Trump planned this out. He’s just following some of his simple rules for a demagogue:
    – Claim victory no matter what happens
    – Blame someone else for anything that is hard to portray as victory
    – Attack your opponent until his reactions get him entangled with the mob

  21. Gravatar of agrippa postumus agrippa postumus
    21. April 2020 at 15:58

    everyone has a plan, until punched in the face. never reason from a price change, unless it matters. wages are sticky, unless…

  22. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    21. April 2020 at 17:24


    I’m curious as to whether you have any thoughts to share on von Neumann’s general equilibrium model, which sought to correct problems with the Walrasian approach. In it, it was posited that the r should equal the GDP growth rate. Do you just consider this a very old, obsolete model at this point?

    My impression is that economists are nearly certain r should not necessarily equal the GDP growth rate in monetary equilibrium.

  23. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    21. April 2020 at 17:25

    Sorry, but I actually thought I was posting the above question in the comment section of your more recent post. I’ll post it there instead.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. April 2020 at 10:15

    dtoh, If that includes 2021:Q1, then yes, I take the bet.

    Carl, Yes, he’s been pure 100% demagoguery from the day he announced. Not one iota of substance in his entire life. Even when there was as crisis and he had a chance to redeem himself by rising to the occasion, he acted like a 12 year old brat. Just a disgraceful human being. Stupid, dishonest, corrupt, cruel, cowardly, vain; he literally has no good human qualities. Not one.

  25. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    22. April 2020 at 18:34


    I wasn’t aware we had abandoned the Gregorian Calendar and that Q1 now ended on January 20th….. but just to sporting, I’ll throw Q1 2021 into the bet. Want to bet on NGDP also?

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. April 2020 at 10:07

    No need for a separate bet, they will move closely together. But if you want to raise the bet to a dime, I’m game.

    (Keep in mind that if GDP falls 20% in Q2, then a subsequent 4% rise is not that earthshaking)

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