Commentary: The Strange Case Of The Disappearing Crisis


By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – The silence deafens.

Not long ago – just a few years ago, in fact – shouts from conservatives across the land filled the air. The federal government’s deficits were an ongoing crisis. The national debt was a disaster in waiting.

The threat was so serious that drastic measures were called for. Republicans in many states – including Indiana – said America needed a new constitutional convention. It was the sole way to save the day and the nation. Indiana even hosted a gathering for those calling for such a convention, one several Hoosier legislative leaders endorsed.

The problem, these doomsday prophets warned, was President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms. Those reforms were running such huge annual deficits that a smash-up was inevitable. The only way to avoid the cataclysm was to change the Constitution and tie the hands of both the president and Congress regarding the budget.

Then the election of 2016 happened.

Donald Trump lost the popular vote but pulled off the equivalent of an inside straight in the Electoral College to become president. Republicans also won the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The members of the GOP could set whatever budget priorities they chose, including trimming deficits and paying down the debt. They chose to make their top priority a massive tax cut that favored the very wealthy.

But the cries for a constitutional convention to deal with the debt and deficits dwindled, then died.

Was that because the problem went away?

Well, no.

In each of the three years, Donald Trump has been president, the deficit has been around $1.1 trillion. During the last four years of the Obama presidency – the years when the howls for the constitutional convention were the loudest – the federal budget deficits ranged from $438 billion to $679 billion. They declined in Obama’s second term when his healthcare reforms took effect.

These Trump deficits have occurred during a time of economic prosperity. As the president likes to boast, the stock market has set record after record. The job numbers indicate that the United States is operating close to what economists call full employment.

To be sure, the good news is not universal.

Wages for lower-income Americans haven’t kept pace with the growth of the economy. There’s also considerable evidence that part of the reason the job numbers are so good is that more and more people are working two or three jobs to keep their heads above water.

But, still, if things are going so well, there should be enough money available to bring the deficits down, right?

Again, no.

It appears to be a question of values.

Apparently, running up deficits to allow old people, children, sick people and poor people to buy luxuries such as insulin is wrong, wrong, wrong. Those people should be able to provide for themselves and their needs. If they can’t, well, tough.

But running up deficits to allow billionaires to engage in stock buybacks or to purchase that much-needed ninth home is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s great.

It appears that the deficits never were the issue.

Treating old people, children, sick people and poor people like, well, people was the problem.

Sometimes, one conservative friend or another of mine will shake his head and wonder why so many of their fellow Americans – particularly young Americans – are listening to “socialistic” proposals like those coming from Democratic presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

Sanders and Warren can’t be that persuasive, they say.

They’re right.

On their own, Sanders and Warren aren’t that persuasive.

But, then, they’ve had a lot of help making their case from erstwhile conservative deficit hawks.

FOOTNOTE: John Krull is the director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.



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