Headline in today’s New York Times: “Trump Claims End of ‘American Decline’” and isn’t that a lovely thought?
Among the many lies in Trump’s State of the Union speech, his assertion that the nation’s days of decline are over — and all because of his presidency — might be the mother of them all. We are most certainly in Wonderland when the president who has done more to hasten the nation’s decline claims from the Capitol to have reversed it.
And the Republicans are right there with him. As the U.S. Senate votes along party lines to acquit Trump of the charges contained in the Articles of Impeachment, making a mockery of the founding principle of checks and balances, can we really say the United States is on the upswing?
It’s not just that Trump’s claims about the economy are overstated, it’s that he uses the metrics of jobs and growth and trade as the main measures of the state of the union. And Americans — even the hardheads who support Trump — know there’s a lot more to it than that.
Even the most money-focused old sinner knows, deep down, that the quality of this country is not solely measured by GDP.
It’s measured by other things, some of them intangible:
By the level of political polarization or, to the contrary, the level of bipartisanship that achieves real progress in health care, education and job training, protection of the environment, better infrastructure and greener economy.
By how well the nation or state cares for its young, its elderly and disabled.
By how welcoming we are to the refugee or struggling immigrant.
By how well we prepare kids for college and careers in the global economy.
You can measure America by how well our institutions work, from the government in Washington and state capitals to the local judiciary and child-welfare systems.
And by how well the president stands up for liberty in the face of oppression around the world.
But those are not things we brag about, not under Trump, who has shown his colors: Anti-government, anti-science, anti-regulation; indifferent or hostile to climate change; repeal everything Obama did, including the Affordable Care Act; close the doors to refugees and asylum-seekers; embrace dictators.
We have had a serious gun problem that half the national government (Republicans) refuses to address.
We have plenty of violence — mass killings and daily killings — as well as a drug overdose epidemic, rising numbers of suicides, falling life expectancy and an upswing in hate crimes.
By many measures our country continues to decline, and Trump has a lot to do with it. He has damaged our reputation around the world with his ignorance in foreign affairs and his cruelty toward immigrants and refugees. He has alienated our longtime allies. He has walked away from leadership on climate change, and propped up the fossil fuel industry.
He has lied and ridiculed perceived enemies more than I thought humanly possible, turning the presidency into a cheap and nasty carnival act.
He was impeached because of his corrupt gambit in Ukraine, and though the evidence against him was overwhelming and convincing, the Republicans, who hold an unfortunate majority in the Senate, protect him and refuse to see Trump’s evil.
By that measure — the level of integrity in our elected government — I would say we are in decline. In fact, I think this is why so many of us are depressed about the state of the country. We feel it slipping away under an ignorant, crass and cruel man who has used the presidency for constant ego gratification and as payback to all who refused to see him as anything more than a celebrity joke. And Trump has a compliant and complicit Senate and stacked Supreme Court that will, it appears, let him get away with anything.
So, no, the American period of decline has not magically ended.
We are a big, rich, talented nation — the dominant power in the world still — but we have a corrupt, dangerous ignoramus for president, and he has been emboldened by the Senate. If Trump wins a second term, this republic might not survive. It has bounced back from trauma in the past, but Trump represents a malady we have never seen before.
In case you have never heard it or read it, here’s a passage from a speech Robert F. Kennedy gave in Kansas in 1968 about how we might best measure the quality of life in America:
Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product now is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product — if we judge the United States of America by that — that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts [mass killers] and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.