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Donald Trump and the Magical Market

Donald Trump thinks the national debt is going down.

(Spoiler alert: It isn't.)

Trump thinks the amount of money the federal government has borrowed to pay for everything Congress has put in motion — including a mind-boggling amount devoted just to interest payments — is suddenly shrinking because the stock market is suddenly doing well.

But nothing has suddenly changed at all. One thing has nothing to do with the other. And Donald Trump has proven himself an idiot in the area in which he claims to be an expert: understanding business.

Here's what he recently said to Fox News:

"The country — we took it over and owed over $20 trillion. As you know, the last eight years, [the federal government] borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country.
So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value.
So you could say, in one sense, we're really increasing values. And maybe in a sense we're reducing debt. But we're very honored by it."

It's not clear by what (or with whom) Trump is honored. But when he was sworn into office, the national debt was $19.95 trillion. It is now north of $20.42 trillion.

That's not how it works
While the debt did briefly dip over the summer — because Congress maintains a debt ceiling, and the cycle of payments and borrowing causes some natural ebb and flow in order to avoid breaching it — the trend is clearly up. The debt had hovered near $20 trillion since early 2016.

Additionally, Republicans have controlled both chambers of Congress since the start of 2015. And it is Congress, not the president, who dictate spending. So in blaming "they," Trump is blaming not Obama but Republican legislators — the people he may be saying are "honored"? — for overspending.

As for the stock market, it's been trending up and up and up since March of 2009 — shortly after Obama became president. Trump used to say we were in a "big, fat, ugly bubble," but apparently things look much prettier from the vantage of the Oval Office.

Of course, that long bull market proves Trump wrong. During Obama's presidency, the S&P 500 returned 235 percent. From 2008 to 2017, as Trump points out, the national debt increased about $10 trillion.

So you could say, "in a sense," Obama reduced debt much more than Trump has. But you'd be pretty dumb to do so. You wouldn't say your personal credit card debt magically went down just because the company you work for turned a higher profit this year. Especially when, by all accounts, you're borrowing more than ever.

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