The stock market has been shaking like a tree in an oncoming storm recently, and the question is, why?
I don’t mean “why should it be shaking?” There are many reasons, not the least of which is the ongoing threat of a trade war with China, turmoil in the Middle East, the hollowing out of the middle of America’s economy, the potential corruption in the executive branch, the paralysis of the legislative branch … those are all good reasons, among many others, for economic indicators to be trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing.
But literally all of those things have been true for over a year now. They are news, but they are not new. President Trump and China have been at each other’s throats for a long time; the question of executive branch corruption has been around since it became clear that members of Trump’s cabinet — beginning with his national security adviser and his attorney general — had mislead Congress about their dealings with a foreign power. The Middle East has been on a tightrope in a earthquake since Trump decertified the Iran deal and Saudi Arabia blockaded Qatar. There hasn’t been a time in the last 10 years when we could point at Congress without laughing.
And yet the stock market didn’t get spooked then. Why now?
We should be careful assigning rationales to “the market,” which is a fundamentally irrational creature no matter what the economists say. (Economists are increasingly best described as the clergy of the Davos set.) But I am reminded of the period early in the second Iraq war when many smart people were convinced that this was going to be a good thing for the world. Yes, they saw all the same potential for disaster that the rest of us did, but they also believed that nothing would be allowed to go terribly wrong because the grown-ups in the Bush administration would step in and take over. So they were optimistic.
Slowly, horribly, as events spiraled downhill, as every single obvious pitfall was fallen into, the realization dawned on them that some of the grown-ups weren’t so grown-up after all, and that the real grown-ups in the room weren’t really in charge.
Eventually they understood that no matter how many “adults” the president surrounded himself with, it didn’t matter unless the president himself was a responsible adult. And by then it was too late.
My guess is that the same thing is going on with the economy. Major movers and shakers weren’t worried, because, come on, Trump had surrounded himself with Wall Street guys, with Goldman Sachs guys, with the kind of people who tanked the global economy in 2008, sure, but were “our” guys and would keep things in line. So no matter how the president talked or what executive orders he made, they could be confident that nothing would really go wrong.
I think the realization that it doesn’t work like that is, once again, settling in. As is the real danger that the might of an American presidency run amok will do to our economy what it did to Iraq.
Speaking of conservative pundits who got Iraq disastrously wrong, the Weekly Standard — a conservative magazine of ideas — has been assassinated by its publishers.
The Weekly Standard’s most significant public impact was on the invasion of Iraq, which it got horribly wrong. It also failed to appreciate, until the Trump presidency, the extent to which the Republican party and conservative movement had been overtaken by people who paid lip service to principles, but only offered tithes to power. Thus, it failed on the two most significant issues of its era.
Nevertheless, I am profoundly saddened by its murder.
It will shock readers who consider me to be an ultra, unrepentant movement progressive to know that I have read and enjoyed the Weekly Standard for all 23 years of its run. This isn’t because I agreed with it on any given issue — I didn’t, particularly during the Bush years — but because on the average week it was simply better written than any other political publication out there. Even when it was wrong it was idealistic, but not dogmatic, accepting of evidence, keen to argue with its opposition’s best ideas rather than their straw men, and a frequent joy to read. Its art section was far superior to any other political publication’s, especially those liberal journals which assume that any art except agitprop is a form of treachery. It showed exactly how much conservatives can, and should, value the arts and humanities for their own sake.
The Weekly Standard often made me wince, but it was a great magazine, for all that it got the biggest challenges before it wrong. I think we are diminished for its loss. Liberals should look to back issues for writing tips.