President-elect Donald Trump spread numerous falsehoods, myths, and outright lies about the state of the American economy in 2016. As the year comes to a close, Media Matters offers eight examples of journalists and media outlets debunking Trump’s outrageously misleading statements.
An October 10 Huffington Post article highlighted several reporters from American and international outlets lampooning an earlier speech from Donald Trump in which he stated that he considers himself “in a certain way, to be a blue-collar worker.” As the article pointed out, Trump was “born into an affluent family and inherited a fortune from his late father,” but that did not stop Trump campaign affiliates from hyping the billionaire’s supposed connection to working people throughout the campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. told Bloomberg Politics managing editor Mark Halperin that his father is a “blue-collar billionaire” in an interview for Showtime’s The Circus last March, and conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord echoed the claim in July during CNN’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention, only to be rebuked by anchor Anderson Cooper. During a July 21 appearance on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart mocked the idea that Trump, “the guy that sits on a literal golden throne at the top of a golden tower with his name in gold letters,” was a “blue-collar billionaire” and dismissed the very idea of a working class billionaire simply, noting, “That’s not a thing.”
After winning the New Hampshire primary in February, Trump told a crowd of supporters not to believe the unemployment numbers reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), falsely claiming the actual unemployment rate is closer to 30 percent than the figure of 4.9 percent from the bureau, and that he “even heard recently 42 percent.” He had made the same claim in an interview with Time magazine in August 2015.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler fact-checked this claim, ruling that “Trump has asserted a ridiculous estimate.” Kessler clarified that though Trump backed up his statement with the figure that 93.7 million people are out of work, “the vast majority of those people do not want to work” and most are retirees. Trump's false unemployment claim received the Post’s lowest rating for untruthfulness, “Four Pinocchios.” Trump’s wildly exaggerated estimate of the so-called “real unemployment” rate was not created in a vacuum. Media Matters has tracked numerous examples of right-wing media falsely claiming that the unemployment rate is far higher than reported and that more than 90 million Americans are “not working” thanks to supposedly failed Democratic policies.
3. Trump Offered “Reckless, Dangerous, Clueless” And “Chaotic” Proposals To Default On The National Debt”
On May 5, during part of an hourlong CNBC interview ostensibly focused on the Federal Reserve’s domestic monetary policy decisions, Trump hyped concerns of runaway interest rate inflation and said that the “swashbuckling” approach he had used to renegotiate private debt deals could be employed to “refinance debt” owed by the United States Treasury. As Politico chief economic correspondent Ben White noted, Trump essentially outlined a plan to default on the national debt by taking the federal government through a bankruptcy proceeding similar to the bankruptcies he faced in the private sector.
Days later, during a May 9 interview with CNN, Trump attacked The New York Times and other publications, which he alleged had misrepresented his previous hint at defaulting on the national debt via bankruptcy. Trump claimed he never said he would default on debt because the government can “print the money” it needs to cover obligations.
CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans lambasted Trump’s ill-conceived ideas about the federal debt on May 10, describing his proposal to renegotiate outstanding federal debt -- a move tantamount to defaulting -- as “alarming.” Romans reported that experts say “Trump doesn't have a coherent idea of what he’s talking about” and that printing money to pay debts would be “disastrous for the economy” because of the inflationary pressure it would put on the money supply.
4. Trump Claimed The Fed -- “One Of The Least Political Institutions In Washington” -- Kept Interest Rates Low For Political Reasons
On the September 13 edition of CNN's New Day, co-host Chris Cuomo played audio of Trump criticizing Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen, saying that “she’s keeping [interest rates] artificially low” to help boost the economic recovery under President Obama and that “she’s very political.” CNN global economic analyst Rana Foroohar debunked Trump’s claim, noting that “the Fed is one of the least political institutions in Washington right now” because “Fed governors have long terms” and the “whole system is set up to make it less political.” Foroohar explained that the Fed had been keeping interest rates so low “over the last eight years to goose the economy because of congressional gridlock.”
On December 14, after the Federal Reserve under Yellen’s guidance chose to raise interest rates and “gently hinted more [rate increases] are in store,” The Wall Street Journal reported that Yellen’s monetary policy priorities are actually not out of step with Trump and his team of advisers, who have called for major rate hikes in the past while praising Yellen’s leadership.
Trump claimed during an April 2 interview with The Washington Post that he could eliminate the country's $19 trillion national debt, which has accumulated over the course of more than two centuries, “over a period of eight years” while still pushing a “very big tax cut.” According to the Post, Trump claimed the "economic growth he foresees as a consequence of renegotiated [trade] deals would enable the United States to pay down the debt.”
CNN’s Christine Romans debunked the “impossible” claim in an April 4 video for CNNMoney and in later appearances on CNN, calling it a “magical mystery tour of math” that would require Congress to first authorize a balanced budget before the federal government paid off $2.3 trillion in debts every year. Romans detailed how Trump’s proposal to restrict free trade would actually hurt the economy and make the debt grow, while outlining how selling strategic American assets in order to pay back debts would likely result in foreign countries shifting from owning debt to owning tangible things like real estate. In a fact check, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave Trump's claim “Four Pinocchios,” writing on April 2, “We regret we have only Four Pinocchios to give for this whopper.” Kessler pointed to “basic math” to explain "why this is a fantastical notion," noting that first, Trump would need to eliminate the deficit, which is set to increase over the next eight years. Then, even if he reduced discretionary spending, renegotiated trade deals, and increased revenues, that would still not eliminate the debt in eight years.
Trump claimed during a September 15 speech about his renewed tax agenda that his plan would cost $4.4 trillion and that the loss in revenue would be reduced to $2.6 trillion “under a dynamic growth model” in which tax cuts can pay for themselves by boosting economic growth.
During an appearance on Fox News, University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee debunked Trump’s tax plan, noting that "we didn't get growth" from the Bush tax cuts so proposing an even larger tax cut “makes no sense.” FiveThirtyEight economics writer Ben Casselman analyzed Trump’s plan and explained that the “dynamic scoring” methodology Trump utilizes could actually overstate estimated economic growth spurred by tax cuts. Casselman noted that differences in how economists estimate how the market may react to tax cuts, along with a lack of clarity from the Trump campaign itself on a key part of his plan, means the true impact of the revised plan could be more economically detrimental than the analysis suggests.
7. Trump Rebranded “Sheer Lunacy” Of Original Tax Giveaway To The Rich As “Working- And Middle-Class Tax Relief”
Trump delivered a speech focused on the economy in which he shared a revised tax plan on August 8 at the Detroit Economic Club. According to a Reuters report, Trump’s plan would create three individual tax brackets of 12, 25, and 33 percent, and sharply cut taxes on corporations from 35 percent to 15 percent.
Experts trashed Trump’s “nonsense” tax plan for being “detail-devoid” and “short on specifics” while policy experts contacted by The Washington Post described Trump’s plan as “a big disappointment” for anyone looking for middle-income tax relief. During an August 9 appearance on Fox News, former labor secretary and economic policy professor Robert Reich blasted Trump and his economic adviser Stephen Moore for attempting to rebrand the “sheer lunacy” in Trump’s original tax plan into the “normal nonsense of supply-side, trickle-down economics” characteristic of other Republican politicians. Reich added that “nothing trickles down” to middle- and working-class Americans from cutting taxes for the rich.
Trump further overhauled his tax plan in a speech September 15 -- which was widely criticized by journalists and experts -- that focused on his supposed commitment to “shrink nondefense spending,” his proposal to reduce federal government spending by 1 percent annually, and his proposal to cap some tax deductions available to some high-income Americans. With these changes, Trump claimed, “tax relief will be concentrated on the working and middle-class taxpayer.” He added that his plan is a “working- and middle-class tax relief proposal.”
Slate economic correspondent Jordan Weissman referred to the tax cuts Trump directed to middle-income earners as “basically worthless” on September 19, adding that under Trump’s economic plan middle-income earners “get very little, while upper-income Americans reap a windfall.” According to the right-leaning Tax Foundation, Trump’s September tax plan does not give as gigantic of a tax break to high-income individuals as he had previously proposed, and the plan would still reduce federal revenue by up to $5.9 trillion over the next decade, with much of those tax savings going to the wealthy.
Trump claimed during his campaign announcement on June 15, 2015, that he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico and that he would make “Mexico pay for that wall.” Trump continued pushing this claim throughout 2016 and even boasted on the May 4 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor that he had a message for the former president of Mexico: “Get your money ready ‘cause you’re gonna pay for the wall.” Trump’s repeated proclamation was even blasted by Bill O’Reilly, who stated on June 9 that “Mexico's certainly not gonna pay for a billion dollar wall, which they believe is insulting."
Critics of Trump’s scheme to force a foreign government to pay for American infrastructure were vindicated in late August, after Trump briefly met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. ABC’s Jonathan Karl noted that the then-presidential aspirant “ditched a year’s worth of tough talk” after a few minutes alone with the Mexican president, while journalists and commentators across the political spectrum mocked Trump for admitting during a press conference that he “didn’t discuss payment of the wall” during the meeting. A spokesperson for the Mexican president later refuted Trump’s claim that Mexico would pay for a wall, stating according to CNN that Nieto had “told Donald Trump very bluntly” that “Mexico would not pay for that wall.” The network reported that the only conclusion that could be drawn from Trump’s contradictory public statements is that any financing for the wall “would essentially be coming out of the U.S. budget.”