How the Stock Market Betrayed Donald Trump

It could be that, for investors, a coronavirus reckoning is finally at hand. Covid-19 cases are at an all-time high, and all the president does in response is tell a rally full of maskless followers, “With the fake news, everything is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.” If Trump had a literary bent, one might suspect him of echoing deliberately Lear’s despairing cry of “Never, never, never, never, never,” in Act V’s “My poor fool is hanged” speech, the dead daughter in his arms not beloved Cordelia but Trump’s own moribund reelection prospects. (Even knowing that this is not the case, I can’t help reading the V in “Act V” as a Halloween rictus mocking the V-shaped recovery that Trump can’t seem to will into existence.)

But we were talking about Wall Street. I hesitate to conclude the stock market is responding to Covid news for the simple reason that, except at the beginning, investors never particularly cared about Covid-19. As for GDP, if Wall Street didn’t care after learning it fell 31 percent in June, why should it care now, after learning it rose 33.1 percent in September?

The brutal truth is that financial markets heed secret harmonies that convey, imperfectly and solipsistically, only whether the financial markets themselves will rise or fall. All else is sentimentality and vanity. Experts (including, now, the chief economist at the White House National Economic Council) admonish us not to mistake the stock market for the economy. More cynically, I have considered (here and here) whether, to the contrary, the stock market is the only economy we’ve got left.

But whatever the financial markets are, rest assured that they don’t give a damn about Donald Trump, and never did. Why should they? As a developer, he borrowed heavily against the future and then stiffed his creditors. As president, he’s done much the same with the federal budget and carbon emissions. The banks were onto this guy long before the rest of us, and they’ll weep no tears for him on November 3.

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