Political Science 101 says that Donald Trump should be running on the economy for 2020. Political Science 201 says matters are not that simple. The stress of being an American under Trump is getting worse.

The economy is doing pretty well. Economic growth is a shade under 3 percent, unemployment is well below 4 percent, and inflation is below 2 percent. These are great top-line numbers, thanks to the Trump administration’s unwitting discovery of Keynesianism.

These numbers do not tell the whole story, however. The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman note that while voters give Trump decent marks on the economy, there’s a soft underbelly to those numbers: “most workers are still gaining less under Mr. Trump than they did during previous times of low unemployment, such as the late 1990s, and fewer than two in five respondents to a SurveyMonkey poll for The New York Times this month said their family was better off financially today than a year ago.”

If the economy is doing well but average Americans aren’t feeling it, that is bad news for Trump. And looking beyond the economy, there is an awful lot of evidence suggesting that Americans are not feeling too well. The polling data is one obvious metric. According to Gallup, in 2018, more Americans were stressed, worried and angry than at any point in the last 12 years. That is extraordinary when you consider that the past dozen years includes the 2008 financial crisis and multiple terrorist attacks. Furthermore, American stress levels are among the highest in the world. Seriously, Americans were as stressed as Iranians and more stressed than citizens of Rwanda, Turkey and Venezuela. That’s nuts.

Does Trump have anything to do with this? It is difficult to determine causality, but the data is pretty suggestive. Trump inspires a whole host of negative reactions in most Americans. Pew polled Americans in the spring and asked them to describe how Trump’s comments and statements made them feel. The top seven responses, in order: concerned (76 percent), confused (70 percent), embarrassed (69 percent), exhausted (67 percent), angry (65 percent), insulted (62 percent) and frightened (56 percent). I am not a psychologist, but I would reckon that there might be something going on here. If these are the dominant emotions that Trump elicits, and if Trump is everywhere, then hey, it’s going to stress a lot of Americans out!

Even more concrete evidence has come to light in the past week. As The Washington Post reported July 19, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.” One disturbing JAMA study looked at premature births, an easily quantifiable metric of stress during pregnancy. After analyzing approximately 33 million births between 2009 and 2017 researchers found 3 percent more preterm births than expected among Latina women in the nine months after the election.

It’s not just Latina women who are feeling the stress of America under Trump. The Boston Globe’s Zoe Greenberg reports that psychologists are having to treat a number of anxiety-related maladies among minority clients, including insomnia and hypervigilance. When they dig deeper, the underlying cause becomes apparent:

“As Trump doubles down on attacks against the four women of color in Congress known as ‘The Squad,’ which includes [Minnesota’s Ilhan] Omar and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, some people of color in the Boston area describe a psychological toll that the episodes, and Trump’s frequent overt hostility, have had on their daily lives – not just this month, but in the many months since the 2016 presidential campaign began.

“Some have tried to guard themselves against the everyday tumult coming from the White House; others have become more vocal in politics. Some have found a grim silver lining, because the scourge of racism that some white people recently claimed had disappeared is now impossible to ignore or explain away. Many said it reminds them of other dark moments of personal and national history, when racial hostility and tension reared up….

” ‘We have now 20 years of research that connects racism with just about every mental health issue that has been studied,’ said Monnica Williams, a professor and the director of the laboratory for Culture and Mental Health Disparities at the University of Connecticut. The effect of ‘vicarious racism’ – seeing, for example, videos of police shootings of unarmed black men, or hearing chants of ‘Send her back!’ – has not been studied as much, according to Jessica Graham-LoPresti, an assistant professor of psychology at Suffolk University, but social media indicates the experience is certainly on the rise.

” ‘People are being now not only exposed to their own experiences of racism, but they’re being vicariously exposed to everyone’s experience of racism,’ she said, adding that patients often exhibit symptoms very similar to those from post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as depression and social anxiety.”

There are a lot of drivers of stress. A robust economy should lessen a primary driver. But the data is pretty clear. The U.S. economy is not benefiting as many citizens as one would expect. More significantly, Trump’s racial divisiveness and bellicose rhetoric are stressing out an awful lot of Americans.

There are multiple ways to help alleviate this national anxiety. More social capital will be needed. More balanced economic growth would be nice. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the best palliative care for U.S. stress levels will be to make sure Donald Trump exits the White House as expeditiously as possible.

 


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