Yesterday, I saw on Twitter that the 4th quarter GDP report had come out, but I didn’t see what it said. I opened a Google tab and typed in “GDP report” in the news section. Immediately, headlines popped up.
New York Times: “US Economy Records Solid Growth.”
CNN: “Stocks rise after America’s economy grows more than expected.”
Yahoo Finance: “Stocks rally after strong GDP report, more earnings.”
Fox Business: “GDP report reveals ominous Great Depression signs not seen since 1932.”
One of these headlines is not like the others. To be fair, almost all of the articles urge caution about the economy. Growth is slowing and we may be heading toward a recession. The Fed will continue to raise interest rates to beat back inflation, which has already slowed significantly.
Still, the point of Fox News is to keep its audience on edge. They peddle in fear and uncertainty. Right now, they are cheering a recession because nothing strikes fear in the party out of the White House like a strong economy. Usually, if people are working, inflation is in check, and the country is not mired in some foreign conflict, most voters will support the status quo. That’s exactly what Republicans don’t want.
Fox News wants bad news, not good news. Tucker Carlson will continue to rail about the coming immigrant invasion that, almost 20 years on, still hasn’t wrecked our economy or turned us into a lawless hellscape. The crimewave Republicans obsessed about in the lead up to the 2022 election has evaporated as the memory of the midterms is replaced by the coming debt ceiling crisis. Remember when Ebola was poised to cause global pandemic back in October 2014 and then somehow resolved itself before Thanksgiving of that year?
The only things that don’t scare Republicans are climate change and income inequality. For 30 years, they’ve had an evolving story arc on climate change that began with flat out denialism and today falls somewhere between “We can’t do anything about it” and “We need to look for market-based solutions.” As the needlepoint at my mother’s house says, “Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.”
Income inequality is the direct result of trickle-down theory, what George H.W. Bush called “Voodoo economics.” For almost 40 years, we’ve been taking money from the poor and middle class and giving it to the wealthy on the promise that they would grow the economy so much that the economic pie would expand, making everybody wealthier. It’s never happened. Instead, the middle class has shrunk while both lower and upper income households have grown. Upper class households have seen their income grow far faster than the middle class and the share of wealth that the middle class holds has shrunk 20% over the past fifty years while the share held by the upper class has increased by a corresponding 21%.
Republicans have mastered the art of keeping their base scared. It helps that most conservatives limit their news consumption to outlets that provide confirmation bias instead of critical analysis. They appeal to visceral reactions like your job is at risk or your family is not safe. And they create boogie men. Immigrant invasions are coming for your jobs and bringing a crime wave with them. They’ve been doing it since Reconstruction and Jim Crow created similar fears of Black men for the hundred and fifty years following the Civil War.
The ravages of tax and economic policies and climate change are more real and permanent, but happen more slowly and takes a more thoughtful, rather than reactionary, perspective. Fox will spend the next year cheering for a recession and exaggerating the consequences once it hits. I suspect we may see a small downturn in 2023, but the jobs from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and Inflation Reduction Act will mute the impact on unemployment. As for climate change, look for Fox to create dire headlines about the impact of shifting from a carbon-based economy to more renewable energy. But don’t worry, the crimewave will come screaming back as the 2024 election gets closer and I can assure you that immigrant hordes are about to take over your neighborhood.