Regaining American greatness

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Trump’s reckless governance left the country ill-prepared to respond to a crisis like this

Julia Jackson (mother of Jacob Blake, a young black man from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was shot seven times in the back by the police) was right when she said: “America is great when our conduct is great.” Sadly, President Donald Trump has been leading America in the opposite direction for four years.

It seems that when he faces the voters on November 3, the entire history of the country will be at stake. It has been 160 years since the United States tried to deal with the “original sin” of slavery. At the time, President Abraham Lincoln warned, “A divided house cannot stand.” But under Trump, all the divisions in the United States have widened.

Not surprisingly, the rich got richer during his presidency, as Trump tends to judge overall economic performance based on the results of the Stock Exchanges, where the richest 10% of Americans own 92% of the shares. And while stock prices have not stopped rising, the same happened with underemployment and unemployment. Some 30 million US residents live in food-deprived households, and most of those in the bottom half of the income distribution earn subsistence wages. In a country already plagued by deepening inequalities, Trump’s Republicans not only lowered taxes on billionaires and corporations, but also implemented policies that will result in the vast majority of middle-income people owing pay more.

As Martin Luther King pointed out more than half a century ago, racial injustice in America is inseparable from economic injustice. I was at the March on Washington 57 years ago, when King gave that moving speech of I Have a Dream (I have a dream) and the attendees chanted “one day we will win.” With the naivety of my 20 years, I did not imagine that one day would be so far away; that after a brief period of progress, the search for racial and economic justice would come to a standstill.

But it has been more than 50 years since the Kerner Commission report on the 1967 race riots, and the disparities between races have barely narrowed. The main conclusion of the report remains valid: “Our nation is on the way to becoming two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” But perhaps under a Joe Biden presidency, the country could finally embark on a different path.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to expose and exacerbate previous inequalities. Far from being an “egalitarian” pathogen, the coronavirus is more dangerous for those who already have health problems; and such people abound in a country that still does not recognize access to health care as a basic right. In fact, the number of uninsured Americans grew by several million during Trump’s tenure, after a huge reduction under President Barack Obama; And even before the pandemic, the average life expectancy with Trump had fallen below the level of the mid-2010s.

You can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy workforce, and it goes without saying that a country where people’s health is getting worse is a long way from being “great.” In January, I wrote an article in which I pointed out Trump’s (foreseeable) poor economic performance, already before the pandemic. Instead of reducing America’s trade deficit, Trump’s misguided trade war increased it more than 12% in just three years. Fewer jobs were created in the same period than in the last three years of the Obama Administration. In addition, there was little growth, and with signs of waning after the temporary stimulus of the tax cut in 2017, which did not generate an increase in investment, but brought the federal deficit above the trillion dollar threshold.

Trump’s reckless governance, endorsed by Republican congressmen, left the country ill-prepared to respond to the first crisis to strike (which was just around the corner). When in 2017 billionaire donors from Republicans and their corporate allies begged for handouts, there was money to spare. But now that families, small businesses and essential public services urgently need help, Republicans say the coffers are empty.

If the fight against the pandemic is comparable to a military mobilization, the United States has had a commander who only thinks of himself and puts the rest at risk with his rejection of science and the knowledge of experts. It is not surprising that it is one of the countries that have least been able to control the disease and its economic consequences. Americans are dying at a rate three times the monthly rate of World War II.

Shortly after the start of this presidency, writer and journalist Michael Lewis warned that the war by Trump and his cronies against the “administrative state” would render the United States helpless when a crisis struck. Now the country cannot cope with a pandemic (which was foreseeable) and remains at the mercy of an imminent climate crisis, a socio-economic crisis and a crisis of democracy and racial justice; not to mention the divisions that are emerging between urban and rural areas, between the coast and the interior, between young and old.

Trump attacked two of the essential ingredients of national greatness: social solidarity and public trust. The countries that have them have been able to control the pandemic and its economic consequences much better. How can a country that lags behind the rest of the world on these issues pretend to be great?

The best thing that can happen to the United States now is a victory for Biden, whose greatest strength is his potential to reunify a divided population. Although the fractures that run through the country have grown too large to heal overnight, there is some truth to that “time heals all wounds.”

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