President Trump utters around 15 false claims per day. Since we’re all accustomed to it by now, here are two lies Trump could tell that would be good for the nation and for the economy in particular.
1. Make a deal with Democrats on funding for border security and claim it includes plenty of money for Trump’s beloved wall, even if it doesn’t. Then fully reopen the government and finance back pay for 800,000 federal workers going without paychecks.
2. Make a trade deal with China and call it an epic breakthrough, even if not much changes. Then rescind all the tariffs on Chinese imports, take credit for surging stock prices (making it three lies, I guess) and watch confidence recover as government gets out of the way.
Cynical? Not at all. Few politicians lie as baldly as Trump does, but artful spinning is an essential element of compromise. Political victory is partly the exercise of raw power, but just as important is the ability to escape traps and persuade supporters you got the best possible outcome. Trump’s hand on both border security and China trade is getting weaker, not stronger, and the sooner he capitulates, the less ridiculous his exculpatory lies will sound.
On the wall, there’s already a silly semantic battle over what a wall is, anyway. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi can tell her own supporters that whatever funding Democrats approve for border security isn’t technically a “wall,” while Trump can insist it is. Are voters going to drive to the border and check? The 40% or so of Americans who approve of Trump already tolerate his lying, and a couple more lies won’t change that. And Trump cares only about pandering to hard-core anti-immigrationists. He’s not recruiting centrists who feel a wall is excessive. Since he’s not trying to win over moderates, he doesn’t have to worry about offending people who might bother to check if he’s lying.
On trade, it might be even easier to label a status-quo deal as a terrific improvement, since trade is so complicated that only a handful of experts really understand the details. Many CEOs agree with Trump that China’s theft of western technology is an urgent problem. But they’re appalled by the tariffs he has chosen as a remedy, since those taxes first raises costs on U.S. businesses and consumers, and punish Americans as much as the Chinese. They’d rather see the United States teaming up with allies and confronting China together, by reforming the World Trade Organization or using other established mechanisms that don’t amount to attrition warfare.
So the U.S. business sector would cheer if Trump backed down in his trade war with China, and nod silently as he called it the greatest trade deal ever. That’s what Trump did with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he modified slightly, rebranded as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and praised as a “great deal.” Automakers and many other companies who feared disruptive new barriers to trade were happy to shut up and let Trump take all the credit he wanted.
With a functioning government and a trade-war peace treaty, stock-market investors could focus more on earnings and the real economy and worry less about the damage caused by political machinations. With fewer problems to explain, maybe Trump would even lie less.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman