We have had more than forty days and forty nights of the Trump presidency and the federal system in America is suffering from what has become a situation of chronic chaos. Trump’s state of the union address gave the country some hope that the billionaire President would begin to steady the White House ship of state but by the following sunrise, the country was again caught up in the whirlwind of the President’s penchant for conspiracy theories.
What is the Trump worldview? How does it differ from the established post-World War 11 America? What does Trump mean by Made in America, Buy in America? Is this a new Pax Americana? How do you reduce corporate and income taxes at the same time expand the military budget, provide more for veterans, build a wall and augment border security without exploding the deficit? How does the rambunctious President reconcile his inner demons and resolve the philosophical and governmental contradictions?
America is experiencing difficulty coping with a schizophrenic political reality. The writer, Nicholas Eberstadt, paints a bleak picture of twenty-first century America. But late twentieth century America was not that sunny and bright for black and brown people living in inner cities. In the same vein that life for white workers in the coal and mining industry and in the rust belt has left whites with a limited education in a sorrow state.
The Harvard Sociologist, William Julius Wilson, vividly pointed out the impact that de-industrialization had on inner city America. Wilson in his work, The Truly Disadvantaged and When Work Disappears chronicled the devastating impact that de-industrialization had on black life. The family degeneration, the housing dilapidation, the underground drug markets, gang turf wars, followed by rising crime rates and mass incarceration.
By the 1990s, we began to observe a massive decline in violent crime. In many of these coastal cities, the economy had recovered and the immiseration was stymied and reversed in the geographic regions of the country that benefited from the expansion of global markets.
The twenty-first century that Nicholas Eberstadt identified as devastating to American workers was triggered by globalization and accelerated technological innovations in productivity. Plants were producing more goods but with a need for less workers. But there were also contractions in certain manufacturing regions of the country which left millions of predominantly white workers with limited education and skills to compete in a changing labor market.
The recklessness of the Bush years only served to exacerbate the contradictions. After inheriting a fiscal surplus, George W. Bush cut taxes, allowed rampant Wall Street speculation and embarked on a Middle East war without raising taxes. The stretched American economy in 2008 came crashing down on what became known as the Great Recession.
It was the Obama administration that rescued America and the world economy from the private and public sector extravagance. Obama and the Democrats passed a stimulus package of almost $800 billion to stimulate the economy out of its doldrums. During Obama’s eight years, the American economy returned to a path of robust employment and reduced the official unemployment statistics to 4.7 percent. A gallant attempt was made to roll back America’s involvement in foreign wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the official data, according to some economists, does not tell the total picture. White workers in the Rust Belt have been left behind. The percentage of American workers participating in the labor market has dropped to an unprecedented level. This decline in worker participation includes men as well as women.
The globalized economy has created a new army of lumpen proletariat. As Eberstadt documents, many of these left-behind workers are currently on disability and have been able to keep their heads above water because of the generosity of the welfare state.
These folks spend an enormous amount of time babysitting the television and strung out on painkillers. Many have opted for a lifestyle of heavy drinking or indulgence with opioid and heroin. This economic and generational crisis has led to a rise in suicides, cirrhosis of the liver and the epidemic of overdose deaths. The Princeton economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, point to the fall in white longevity among poorly educated whites which is far more acute in America than in any of the other industrialized countries.
What is remarkable is that unlike the de-industrialization in urban America, the de-industrialization in the Rust Belt and in small towns did not trigger a massive increase in violent crime. One can surmise that this army of marginalized workers constitutes the shock troops of Trump’s populist army that provided the margin of victory in Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The globalization that enriched the coastal cities concomitantly pulverized the Rust Belt of the country. This has led to the collapse of the Democratic firewall which was quite impregnable in presidential elections until 2016.
Trump’s gargantuan task is to resolve the contradictions of the two Americas. What he has been successful in doing is to exacerbate those contradictions by adhering to the Breitbart-Bannon worldview. The scapegoating of America’s problems will only lead to the Trump administration skating on thin ice. The war on Muslims, the war on immigrants and the war on globalization will only deepen America’s civilizational crisis. The Trump formula and the Bannon prescription for change will lead to the worsening of conditions of American workers. It does not address the glaring question of income inequality.
White identity politics will not solve anything and it has already led to a rise in anti-Semitism and random attacks on Indians who are not necessarily Muslims. The expenditures on military hardware, the 15,000 new ICE and Border Patrol workers, the building of the wall and the resort to mass deportation will not change the lives of those workers displaced by an inter-connected world economy.
The Trump administration is floundering even moreso than the Bush administration. It is all over the map. It is against neoconservatism yet it is pursuing a more muscular foreign policy. It promised a more comprehensive health care system to replace the Affordable Care Act but thus far its market-based alternative will be grossly inadequate to meet the basic health needs of the American people. Jobs will not come from a return to Pax Americana but by expanding American exports especially concentrating on advanced manufacturing where America is globally competitive.
There is no sign of Trump acquiring a more realistic worldview. Rather, he is falling back on finding new conspiracy theories like the idiocy that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones, which shows that the ignoramus Trump is not even aware that there is a firewall that separates the White House from the Department of Justice when it comes to criminal investigations. There are already signs vis-à-vis the Russian investigation that Trump is sowing the seeds of his own political demise. While Rome burns, Nero is playing the fiddle.