We’ve had four years to listen to pundits and others talk about the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency and its impact on the country by and large, but there have been fewer analyses, it seems, on just what his presidency meant for business and the economy.
The most intriguing analyses were not necessarily that his 70-plus million voters like his economic policies, but they found a friend in him as a cultural warrior. Unfortunately, the warriors were directed by Trump on Jan. 6, creating havoc, threatening public safety and desecrating American institutions when they stormed and vandalized the Capitol.
In fact, it seems economic indicators on the surface would have been an easy argument had the president and his campaign staff chosen to follow the strategy of touting his economic record. Of course, the pandemic put a damper on all that.
Still, people could look to the stock market hitting records and interest rates and inflation at zero. Business regulation was, by many measures, drastically reduced. Of course, reduction in regulations doesn’t make a sexy campaign speech.
But his following as a cultural warrior seemed to resonate with a lot of folks who turned out for his rallies, bought flags (an unusual campaign tool) and even set up bars that were “Trump friendly.”
But you’re not going to be successful in business if you can’t capture a significant market. In this case, the market was the population of voters in the United States. President-elect Joe Biden was a better “product” to the majority of that market.
Trump’s success as a cultural warrior had an undercurrent of what people were thinking but often couldn’t say. He allowed them to say it: “There are too many immigrants. They use too many of our resources. Black people should show respect to our flag by not kneeling. The torch bearers are simply another point of view and very nice people.”
His name calling had appeal as well. His followers were tired of mealy-mouthed politicians. Time after time, you heard his followers say, “He did what he said he was going to do.” Again, a cultural shift from what people had come to realize as political doublespeak under the guise of “decorum.”
And Trump, a formidable marketer, also made great strides in developing his 72 million market by telling them he was ready to deliver money, jobs and free speech, religious freedom, among other things.
The money promises were partly true, but the 2017 tax cuts favored the wealthy and those who could write off things. The corporate rate was drastically reduced as well as taxes for limited partnerships and the like. There was a smaller tax reduction for middle-class people.
But most impressive perhaps is how he changed the culture of the Republican Party from pro-free trade to anti-free trade, from anti-tariffs to pro-tariffs, from pro-NATO to anti-NATO and from anti-deficit to pro-deficit.
There was nary a Republican to be seen when the annual budget deficit tripled to $3 trillion in the matter of a couple of years, first with the tax cuts of 2017 and then the pandemic stimulus. There was a time when Democrats and Republicans spent a great deal of time blaming each other’s party for huge budget deficits. (It’s scary that they don’t seem to matter much to anyone anymore outside the Concord Coalition.)
But is changing the cultural narrative for half of Americans good for business?
It is if you’re only interested in half of the market.
A number of cultural missives borne by a Trump presidency, like anti-immigration, are opposed by businesses. They realize how much of the economy is driven by immigrants willing to take jobs Americans won’t take. Consider personal care attendants in nursing homes, some manufacturing jobs and service jobs.
Immigrants bring with them an entrepreneurial culture and start shops, restaurants and family businesses. Their culture doesn’t have a 40-hour work week built into their brain. What business wouldn’t mind workers like that?
Cultural wars are good for the Trump memorabilia stores but not much else.
Joe Spear is executive editor of Minnesota Valley Business. Contact him at email@example.com, and 344-6382. Follow on Twitter @jfspear.