The US Economy Is Strong With Job Growth High And Inflation Way Down Even As Disinformation Reigns

Heather Cox Richardson

An article this morning jumped out at me. Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post noted that the U.S. economy “looks remarkably good.” A recent stunning jobs report, showing that the economy continues to add jobs at record rates—more than 13.9 million since President Joe Biden took office—along with yesterday’s stunning report that U.S. economic growth grew at an annual pace of 4.9% in the third quarter of this year, puts the U.S. economy at the forefront of most of the world. And inflation is back in the range that the Federal Reserve prefers—it’s at 2.4%, close to the Fed’s target of 2%.

The U.S. is outperforming forecasts made even before the pandemic began for where the economy would be now, even as other countries are worse off. 

And yet, Rampell notes, Americans are about as negative about the economy today as they were during the Great Recession after 2008, when mortgage foreclosures were forcing people out of their homes and unemployment rested at about 9%, more than twice what it is today. In contrast, consumers give high marks to the Trump years, when average growth before the pandemic was 2.5% and the U.S. added only about 6.4 million jobs.

There is a crucial divorce here between image and reality. Americans think our economy, currently the strongest in the world, is in poor shape. They mistakenly believe it was better under Trump.

That profound and measurable disjunction ought to make us sit up and take notice, especially as the Biden administration continues to try to make the economy responsive to ordinary Americans and the country continues to pay little attention. Today, for example, the White House announced an effort to turn the dual problems of empty office buildings and a shortage of affordable housing into a win-win. It announced a series of actions to convert vacant commercial properties to residential buildings. Their efforts are designed to create affordable, energy-efficient housing near public transportation and jobs.  

The importance of identifying the contrast between image and reality in today’s politics showed recently as the meticulous work of Nashville investigative reporter Phil Williams of Tennessee’s NewsChannel 5 appears to have had an important effect on the mayoral election in Franklin, Tennessee. 

While far-right Christian nationalist mayoral candidate Alderman Gabrielle Hanson promised she was “committed to restoring and upholding the wholesome values that have long been the foundation of our city’s identity,” Williams exposed to voters Hanson’s shady history. He showed that Hanson had lied about having multiracial supporters and her ties to white supremacists, highlighted her bizarre behavior, and noted her embrace of Christian nationalism. 

On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly rejected Hanson and other far-right candidates. Hanson won just 20.6% of the vote to 79.4% for the incumbent mayor. Then, after losing, Hanson apparently had her husband drop off her computer and ID badge at City Hall, abandoning her term as alderman before its November 14th end. 

Such deep investigation stands out in an increasingly turbulent sea of disinformation. Shayan Sardarizadeh of the BBC explained to Hanaa’ Tameez of Neiman Journalism Lab that social media posters on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, or Twitter can make significant sums of money from “engagement farming.” Posting outrageous material that engages viewers pumps up a user’s brand, making them able to command high prices from marketers.  

Sardarizadeh notes that the Israel-Hamas war is a particularly attractive situation for engagement farmers, and rumors and fake videos are flying. 

But there are plenty of opportunities for disinformation at home, too, for political purposes. In Ohio, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is using its official government website to push what Associate Press legal and medical experts say is “false or misleading” information against the proposed constitutional amendment the state’s voters will consider in the November 7 election. Their inflammatory language warns, for example, that the measure will “legalize abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy” and permit “the dismemberment of fully conscious children,” the rhetoric of anti-abortion activists.

Julie Carr Smyth and Christine Fernando of the Associated Press report that Republicans began their “On the Record” blog on the state Senate website after Ohio voters rejected their attempts to make it much harder to pass constitutional amendments. The Republicans bill the blog as an “online newsroom” where voters can find “the views the news excludes.” Republican Senate president Matt Huffman denied that the blog was a news service, but it sits under the “News” tab on the Senate’s website. 

“My [Republican] colleagues say that this is done because the mainstream media won’t print their stuff,” Democratic state senator Bill DeMora told the reporters. “But of course, the mainstream media won’t pick this up because it’s factually incorrect and basically lies.” 

But because the blog appears on an official government website, internet searches turn it up as a reliable source. Laura Manley, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, told Smyth and Fernando: “It’s a really strategic way to make something appear to be neutral information and fact when that’s not the reality…. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Finally, after a two-day manhunt, law enforcement officers found Maine mass murder suspect Robert Card dead tonight from a self-inflicted gunshot. Reports suggest that Card had at least a recent history of mental illness and note that his social media accounts show a history of engagement with right-wing and Republican political content.

Leave a Reply