One should choose their words carefully if their speech is going live across the world, more so if you happen to be the US President, in this case President Donald Trump. The joint address to Congress by Trump was filled with inaccuracies, rhetoric and exaggerations and after a fact-check, it seems clear that he may have just read a half-researched speech off the teleprompter.
In his maiden address to Congress, it is expected presidents would be prudent. But, that is just not Trump. Many of the false or overarching claims were repetitive and can be traced back to his election campaign speeches. Some of which he loved to dole out on a regular basis. Here is a check on some of the more glaring claims in his speech:
“America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Middle East, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country — twice.”
The wars in Middle East that he refers to–Iraq and Afghanistan–cost the US $1.6 trillion. Afghanistan, arguably doesn’t fall completely into the Middle East as well. This was between 2001-2014, a 15 year period. Trump refers to the money that the US government has not spent yet–money that experts estimate would add up to the $6 trillion over a period of three decades like veteran welfare and interest on debt. Trump claims this corpus, which can be restructured in multiple ways, could have been spent–hinting it is already spent–to rebuild the US economy.
Former President Barack Obama’s key infrastructure bill was stalled in Congress by the GOP members. It remains to be seen whether the Republican majority House and Senate show intent to pass crucial infrastructure bills for that end.
Ban on Lobbying
On the issue of lobbying, one which was central to Trump’s ‘Clean up Washington’ rhetoric, he said: “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.”
Trump has effectively made the policy on the matter more opaque than before. His executive order that puts a lifetime ban on administration officials who lobby for foreign governments has not been extended to Congressional officials as he had promised initially. Also, the ban is only applicable on lobbyists lobbying for their previous agency. In effect, it doesn’t impose a ban on becoming a lobbyist. So there is a loss of clarity and confusion now than before.
He spoke on the porous borders of the US which are used to smuggle drugs and criticised the previous administrations for leaving US borders unguarded for illegal immigration while defending other countries. “We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.”
The fact is, barring 2011, the flow of illegal immigrants into the US has been lowest since 1972. According to a report in the Washington Post, the apprehensions of illegal immigrants in US fiscal 2016 were 4,08,870 up from exceeded fiscal 2015 when the figure was 3,31,333. Broadly, the figures have been on a drop since its peak point in 2000 when the number was 1.6 million. In FY 2016, at least 5,89,670 kg marijuana was seized which was a decline from the previous fiscal’s figure of at least 6,80,388 kg. The highest number was in FY 2009 at 18,14,369 kg when President George W. Bush of the Republican party was in office. The figures are sourced from Customs and Border Patrol data. According to the data, in fiscal 2016, the seizure of cocaine was 5,473 pounds while the previous year it was 11,220 pounds. However, heroin and methamphetamine seizures have gone up. In fiscal 2016, the Border Patrol department seized over 9,062 pounds of heroin up from the 8,282 figure the previous fiscal, while the methamphetamine seizures went up from 6,443 pounds in 2015 fiscal to 8,224 pounds in 2016 fiscal.
Reducing cost of fighter aircraft
“We’ve saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price of the fantastic new F-35 jet fighter, and will be saving billions more dollars on contracts all across our government.”
This is a classic case of claiming undue credit. The announcements to reduce costs to the tune of nearly $600 million were made by Pentagon even before Trump had any formal meetings with the CEO of Lockheed Martin–the manufacturer of the F-35 fighter jet.
Credit for corporate investment decisions
Trump said: “It’s been a little over a month since my inauguration, and I want to take this moment to update the nation on the progress I’ve made in keeping those promises. Since my election, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Walmart, and many others, have announced that they will invest billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs.”
Recently, Ford decided to scrap its plans to build a factory in Mexico and instead build one in Michigan. Ford CEO Mark Fields was quoted in several reports saying: “The reason that we are not building the new plant, the primary reason, is just demand has gone down for small cars.” It was reported that company wants to focus on the newer technology electric cars. Other reports cited Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne saying that Fiat Chrysler was planning to make a $1 billion investment in a Michigan factory. He said the plant was in the works for a over a year and the decision of the company had “nothing to do with Trump.”
Labour force misjudgment
“94 million Americans are out of the labor force,” Trump said.
The American Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts a monthly survey called Current Population Survey. According to data of that survey, till January 2016, there were a total 94.4 million US citizens above 16 years of age who were not in the labor force. According to official US data, there are 254.1 million civilian noninstitutional population in the US. Civilian noninstitutional population is basically people above 16 years of age who live in the 50 states and DC (District of Columbia). These people must not be inmates in any institutions–thus noninstitutional–like prisons, mental rehabilitation, old-age homes etc. This population does not include active duty personnel of the US armed forces as well. Now, BLS puts the number of people in the labour force as 159.7 million. The difference of 94.4 million is cited by Trump as not part of the work force.
However, there are only 7.6 million people who are actively on the lookout for a job and are unable to get one. This puts the unemployment rate at only 4.8 per cent, according to official data. These people are officially included as part of the labour force. So, unless you are seeking a job, you are not included as part of the labour force. Which is completely different to the picture painted by Trump implying 94.4 million people don’t have jobs because they aren’t able to find one.
2015 BLS data shows that at least 95 per cent of the out of labour force population are students, stay-at-home parents, retired from service, senior citizens or handicaps. Out of the non-labour force population in 2015, BLS found nearly 93 per cent were not looking for/did not want a job.