When Barack Obama was president and the economic statistics were good, then-candidate Donald Trump said they were fake. When Trump became president and inherited the exact same stats, they suddenly became real.
Now that they're turning south, they're apparently fake once more.
Trump, aided by his economic brain trust of cranks and sycophants, believes any indicator showing the U.S. economy could be in trouble must be fabricated. It's all part of an anti-Trump conspiracy, he rants, according to reports in The Washington Post, the Associated Press and The New York Times.
And move over, Illuminati, because this particular conspiracy is massive.
It's led by the Federal Reserve, Democrats and the media, of course, or so say Trump and his Fox News minions. But it also includes the entire U.S. bond market, which flashed a warning sign last week when the Treasury yield curve inverted (meaning long-term bonds had lower interest rates than short-term ones, which usually predates a downturn).
The cabal even transcends borders. Besides Trump's trade wars, after all, the main risk to the U.S. economy involves contagion from abroad. And right now, nine major economies are either in a recession or on the verge of one.
The White House has reportedly declined to develop contingency plans for a downturn because it doesn't want to validate this "negative narrative." This is, in a word, idiotic. As others have analogized, it's like refusing to buy a fire extinguisher because you're afraid of feeding a "negative narrative" that you might someday face a fire.
Trump's National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow hit the Sunday shows. For his part, he bizarrely pretended other troubling economic data (in this case, on consumer sentiment) didn't exist. He also repeatedly told viewers: "Let's not be afraid of optimism."
But that confidence is convincing only if it's credible — because, say, the White House has acknowledged how its own trade policies are contributing to recession risk and is committed to reversing them. Or because it has a competent team in place if recession strikes.
Neither is true.
Instead, Kudlow's call for optimism has a whiff of Peter Pan logic about it: If only we believe in fairies hard enough, we can always save Tinker Bell —even when we're sending her out into a hailstorm. If you believe, clap your hands; don't let Tink die!
It's hard to imagine nervous Americans are really this credulous. Then again, perhaps we were never the intended audience for such performances. Sure, (BEG ITAL)maybe(END ITAL) White House aides are trying to fool the public into believing recession warning signs don't exist. But maybe they're actually just trying to fool their boss.
A frightening conspiracy theory, indeed.
Catherine Rampell's email address is email@example.com.