Don’t take this as panic, or dread, or doom and gloom; but the exceptional job that America has done in recovering from the last self-inflicted, near fatal wound ends with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump tomorrow. American Exceptionalism’s Time of Death will be pronounced at 12:01, January 20th, 2017.
The pomp and circumstance might all seem familiar, but American history is delineated in roughly 100 year segments. A hundred years or so marked the Revolutionary War to the Great Civil War. A hundred or so years marked The Civil War to the mistakes made that gave us the Great Depression, and the wisdom to end it with foundations of fairness and equal opportunity to all. And a hundred years, or thereabouts, marks the expansion of the American Dream, with America making and defending its allies, (admittedly mistakes and all) but with Lady Liberty still beseeching “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me”—recognizing that we are all immigrants except the ones we tossed off of their land who were already here in hideously cruel ways.
And now history will mark the delineation that will show the period that we completely dismantled every single protection this country put in place to make the economy fair and compassionate to ALL Americans after the terrible lesson of the Great Depression, but then allowed a man, made wealthy by inheritance, cheating, lying, conning, and bullying to lead this country into what our allies fear is our total repudiation of everything that made us great.
Tomorrow’s inauguration will feature bussed-in “supporters” into the capital to celebrate the most serious and representational moment in our country’s democracy, despite the fact that the soon-to-be president is one who tears into an American hero, belittles our allies and praises our most dangerous enemy, deflects sexual harassment suits, settles fake University scams and whines like a baby when any person or poll shows disapproval, and claims ratings of him are rigged unless they’re favorable.
This is how the Trump presidency begins, and the illusion that remained of American Exceptionalism ends.
I don’t say this to portend doom and gloom, or that there will be another Great Depression, although the underlying legs of the stool that support our economy are splintering, as I’ve tried to recount in great detail in previous articles.
Political eras, like the one into which every one of us was born, have pretty clear points of delineation that can only be clearly seen with the eyes of history. Sherman and Mr. Peabody will one day hop in their WABAC (way-bak) Machine or Doc Brown in his flying DeLorean, and they will visit January 20th, 2017 to get a perspective of what led us to this new era of a President who promised to “drain the swamp” but instead placed 6 Goldman Sachs disciples into Cabinet positions, and placed one of the most elite, privileged women in the country in charge of the public education system, and placed a one-time presidential rival, (who couldn’t remember the names of three government agencies that he would eliminate if elected) in charge of the very governmental agency that he couldn’t remember the name of. I think you get the idea.
Historians argue that the century of British dominance —Pax Britannica and the Industrial Revolution — saw the curtain fall in 1914 with the onset of the First World War.
The British Empire would hold together for roughly another 30 years but beginning with the campaign against Germany and its allies, the exit doors were flung open and the patrons started streaming out.The costs of world dominance, already a burden in peace, were impossible to maintain in war.
The “American” dominance century began to take shape about 30 years later, after Franklin D. Roosevelt cemented America’s preeminence over the west (after lessons learned from mistakes that caused the Great Depression) which was fragmented by diverse beliefs and priorities. Since then, Washington has been in the captain’s chair of world events; the seat of unsurpassed might among free nations.
America increased its standard of living at an astounding rate. We expanded our markets and brought the world with us. We became the magnet to those seeking education, innovation, and competition by spreading the model of free education and information to all reaches of the country. We finally saw the nobility, after bitter and costly battles, in women’s rights, and civil rights, to all of its citizens.
But just like the British Empire struggled to sustain its momentum in the decades leading up to World War I, so too did America as it ran up against the confines of time, technology, and most of all, a political Party that embodies in its new leader and President, the seven deadly sins:Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath.
Globalism, made possible by cheaper, more efficient technologies and transportation, gave rise to competitors, even as automation made our own workers less necessary. Entire regions of factory towns deteriorated as companies chose to abandon the workers to fend for themselves rather than educate them to utilize new technology. The price of maintaining global supremacy, became harder to defend as other countries stepped in to fill the voids, as enrichment for money holders took precedent over enrichment for the producers of the wealth.
Government continued to grow, but so did the gaping abyss between the 1% and everyone else.
Even so, fifteen years into the 21st century, the America’s political center clung doggedly to the idea of an indispensable, capacious America. It was at the heart of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion in Iraq and of his bid to add a new federal program for prescription drugs rather than throttle back the unfettered, skyrocketing costs that no other country in the world was permitting. It was the vision behind Barack Obama’s health care plan, flawed as it might be, to try and include all Americans in the bounties of our medical treatments which, ironically, became precisely what Donald Trump’s election and the Republican Party has sought from its inception to repudiate.
Trump has uttered or “Tweeted” conflicting statements about virtually everything; I’m certain he’ll contradict himself a dozen times during the inauguration alone. But the one theme he has been steadfast about is that he believes in an American of Country Clubs rather than expansion and globalism. If you aren’t invited, or if you don’t look like him or believe what he does, you are not welcome in Trump’s America.
Trump embraces the kind of tariffs that economists (like me) and history have proven to be vestiges of an old intra-national system. He is surrendering the shaping of world markets to a Chinese leadership that now, incredibly, seems to be the world’s largest proponent for inter-national trade and he fancies philosophical splendor in a fucking wall for god’s sakes, as if the one the Chinese built in the third century B.C. would be effective all these centuries later.
Ronald Reagan, the conservative icon, who would not recognize his own Party now, disregarded his detractors by endorsing our global ambition to enemies abroad. He reveled in and claimed ownership of Berlin’s wall being razed while Trump makes one his signature ideal. Trump launches his presidency by telling our allies that they too aren’t worthy.
His antagonism toward the political establishment is an antipathy toward globalism itself. His ambition is personal, not national. His promise to make America great isn’t for all Americans, but for himself. His every action favors the wealthy, just as his every utterance to the contrary is a lie.
A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News this week shows that Trump arrives in Washington with the lowest approval rating of any president-elect in 40 years. But his con has convinced his marks otherwise when it comes to creating jobs and stopping terrorism.
I can hope that this is only a momentary setback. I can hope that Trump represents a kind of national cleansing that will flush out the real Americans from hunkering down behind televisions, phones, and dating sites, and that after they finally open their eyes and see that is not the principles on which this country was founded, we will get ourselves together and continue on with the proper business of global leadership and American brotherhood.
But the reality is that once you leave a vacuum, someone will fill it. Once you cede your hard-earned trust, leadership, it’s not so easy brush it off with an “oops” like Rick Perry’s signature blunder. Economic rules get written. Opportunistic wannabes exploit the opportunities. The world looks elsewhere for stability.
Vladimir Putin understands this. Does anyone really believe he loves Trumpism? Russians are nothing if not patient, and they’ve been waiting about 75 years for this moment in time.
As Trump prepares to take his oath, the world has decided America’s democracy has failed and stunned at our fondness for inconsequentiality and shallowness. Even in tiny little Ecuador, the comment I hear again and again from friends and locals is some refrain of: What the hell is wrong with you people? Do you not get how much the world relies on your stability?
Can America still be a world leader? Sure we can. But we’re bound by demographics to become more diverse, not less so. We remain the world’s leading exporter of culture (especially entertainment) and consumerism. We’re rich in talent that has been acquired through policies and attitudes many have forgotten or ignore, and we command more military might than any nation….ever.
But like the British before us, we’re increasingly complacent, self-centered, and gullible. We’ve become a nation satisfied with acting solely on our own behalf, and too lazy to get out and vote in a number greater than one half of the population.
The vastness of America’s vision, inclusiveness, and goodwill towards others has succumbed to the pettiness, and divisiveness of Trump and his ilk.
The hundred years of American Exceptionalism regresses, 140 characters at a time. SAD!