Joe Biden keeps trying to convince us that we’re not plunging into a recession, regardless of what the numbers may say.
Now I’m not comparing the magnitude of the two efforts. Trump is making a case that every lawsuit and investigation – and the testimony of some of his own people – has shown to be flatly untrue. Biden is engaged in the age-old art of political spin, but with a troubling twist.
Yet, it’s part of a broader picture of a society so divided that we can’t agree on a common set of facts. Die-hard Trump loyalists can’t be convinced that Biden is a legitimately elected president. Fierce Biden loyalists insist that Trump should be behind bars, due process and Justice Department decision-making be damned. Both sides have appropriated “the Big Lie” to brand what their demonized opponents are doing.
And the media long ago forfeited its referee role, largely detested by the right and increasingly distrusted by the left now that Biden is president.
Everyone’s got their own channel to reach their base directly through social media (Truth Social in Trump’s case), or personal podcasts. They can ignore uncomfortable questions, accuse their opponents of conspiracy-mongering or say that black is white.
The news that the Justice Department is investigating Trump – based on leaks to the Washington Post and New York Times, as well as the grand jury testimony of two former Pence aides – only heightens the stakes.
In his Washington speech, Trump devoted the first part to rising crime and how he would combat it, but he couldn’t resist some references to his stolen-election campaign. “I won, and I won a second time,” he said, and he might have to do it again.
“Never forget, everything this corrupt establishment is doing to me is all about preserving their power and control over the American people,” Trump added. “They want to damage you in any form, but they really want to damage me. So I can no longer go back to work for you.”
Trump excels at painting himself as the victim and his followers as the ultimate losers if he is thwarted.
For a more unvarnished view, here he is on Truth Social after the Post broke the story: “Just more disinformation by the Democrats… Why is the Justice Department not prosecuting those responsible? Plenty of time left!”
And: “People forget, this is all about a Rigged and Stolen Election. But rather than go after the people that Rigged and Stole it, they go after the people that are seeking Honesty and Truth, and have Freedom of Speech, and many other defenses, on their side! Justice Department should look at The Crime of the Century. Evidence is massive and irrefutable!!!”
It’s a head-spinning situation: The Justice Department is investigating Trump (not quickly enough for bloodthirsty partisans), and Trump says the department should be investigating those who stole the election (which even a year and a half later he has failed to prove).
Now for the Biden sleight of hand.
In a plan that has been brewing for days, the president and his team want to counter today’s GDP report, which may well conclude we’ve just been through the second straight quarter of negative growth. That is the classic definition of a recession.
Ah, but that would contradict Biden’s repeated insistence that we’re not heading into a recession.
The solution: Move the goalposts.
Brian Deese, the White House’s chief economic adviser, has been trotted out to say that the usual definition is backward-looking; things have been improving. The administration is making its own assessment.
“We are in a period of transition right now,” Deese told reporters, adding: “Two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession. It’s not a definition that economists have traditionally relied on.”
Recession? What recession? Move along, nothing to see here.
Imagine if Trump had said that?
This is pretty brazen. Just using semantics to wish away a recession? We may or may not hit two negative quarters today, but the White House is clearly worried about the prospect, bringing out Treasury chief Janet Yellen for a rebuttal today.
The Republicans have dug into this history:
Deese in 2008: “Of course economists have a technical definition of recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.”
Jared Bernstein, another Biden economic adviser, in 2019: A recession is “defined as two consecutive quarters of declining growth.”
Washington Post fact-checker, addressing Trump comments, in 2015: “Two negative quarters in a row is a standard indicator for an economic recession.”
I thought the media would be more critical, but the reaction has been surprisingly mild so far.
Concerted efforts to redefine reality clearly cross party lines.