It is hard not to be taken up with the difficulties confronting us. They are generally and regularly addressed in these pages and they obviously will be again. At the same time, America still has more going for it than any other nation on earth.
One need only travel out of the country as we have over the last decade to appreciate that the vast majority of Americans live in better circumstances than a significant majority of the rest of the world’s population. Visit Asia, the Caribbean, South America, Africa; get away from the nice sections of their cities and plush tourist enclaves, and see how much better the vast majority of Americans have it than most of those with whom we share the globe.
Unemployment is low and the dollar is strong. Inflation is high, and without doubt providing serious immediate hardship to our financially-constrained citizens, but some experts now opine that price pressures may be at the cusp of a decline. More importantly, if a stable relatively-higher inflation rate results from a concerted effort to replenish the domestic capabilities we’ve allowed to wither over the past 30 years in homage to the Great Corporate God, Lower Cost, such would arguably lead to better employment opportunities for some currently-challenged segments of our people and is a price we should be willing to pay to reduce our global supply chain vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic. We have the intellectual and financial capital to get this done. No one else in the world does.
Our immigration policy and practices are obviously currently in shambles — primarily due to Republican grandstanding but also contributed to by Democrats – and we need more effective border controls. That said, the crush at our southern border exists because – as has been true for centuries of immigrants coming from our east and west – people from other lands understand that this nation offers them and their loved ones the best opportunity for a free, better life. It remains within our grasp to restore the healthy mix of immigrants that has always been our lifeblood. Few if any other nations have this opportunity.
Watching the stock market retreat can be disconcerting, but using the Dow Jones Index as the indicator, the lowest point of the recent slide brought us to levels about on a par with late February, 2020, when Donald Trump was wishing away COVID because he didn’t want to alarm the high-flying stock market. The market could fall roughly another 20% from there (to about 23,000) and be at a level not seen since the prehistoric days of … January, 2019. Were those in the market feeling poor that day? Ironically, equity values have fluctuated because economic indicators look strong, which the market realizes will cause the Federal Reserve to keep raising interest rates to battle inflation. Investors are moving from stocks to bonds because the latter are starting to generate appreciable returns. Being (as all are acutely aware) no financier, I nevertheless timidly venture that at a macro level, having liquid assets divided more evenly between stocks and bonds is a good thing. Did anybody think that the market was always going to go up?
We’ve beaten the pandemic. It was at great cost; over 1 million American lives lost – many, in my view, due to the self-absorption of Donald Trump. At the same time, through the efforts of the scientific community and the Trump and Biden Administrations, we developed and distributed incredibly effective vaccines in an incredibly short time that got us back on our feet. We will lose more Americans this winter, but it seems likely that most of these will sadly be lost due to their own misguided decisions.
America’s stature on the world stage hasn’t been as high as it is now since at least before the 2003 Iraq invasion. While our standing has risen largely due to Russia’s barbaric and blundering invasion of Ukraine, and no one could have predicted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would prove to be a Winston Churchill-like wartime leader, the NATO unity and effective support of Ukraine we’ve seen over the last eight months was anything but certain when the invasion began. The allied success is a direct result of President Joe Biden’s incredibly skillful marshalling of NATO and deft management of American domestic sentiment. Russia’s recent sham annexation of Ukrainian regions has been overwhelmingly condemned in the United Nations; China, Russia’s most significant ally, is clearly less than pleased. The Russian nation will be a crippled pariah as long as Vladimir Putin remains its President. (More on nuclear weapons below.)
China is also currently off its stride, which clearly augments our global position. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s own ambition and impatience have significantly slowed and perhaps thwarted his aspirations for “The China Dream.” Some China experts are opining that Mr. Xi’s recent seizing of a third term as President has sown dissention within China’s hierarchy. Mr. Xi’s decision to spurn western-developed COVID vaccines for less effective Chinese vaccines and his enforcement of aggressive COVID lockdowns have not only hindered his economy but caused unrest among his people. His human rights record — the de facto renunciation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy with Hong Kong with attendant suppression of protestors; the bellicose comments about Taiwan; the regime’s concentration-camp treatment of Uighurs — has created deep reservations within the democracies about closer relations with China. His buildup of Chinese armed forces and attempt to usurp and militarize the South China Sea have disconcerted both China’s Pacific friends and adversaries, causing some to welcome a greater American presence. Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road initiative – i.e., a concerted effort to curry favor among poorer nations by providing them loans for their infrastructure projects — has saddled China with bad loans while its punitive collection methods on early arrangements have created reluctance to participate in other prospective applicants. China’s economy is unquestionably slowing; Mr. Xi’s subordination of his predecessors’ freer-market policies to political orthodoxy and imposition of tighter government control over the nation’s economy have cooled global investors’ enthusiasm about China, accordingly strengthening America’s position as the dominant global economy and currency.
We live, as we have for over 70 years, under threat of nuclear holocaust. While we certainly cannot discount the possibility of an exchange between squabbling minor nuclear players (if there is such a thing) such as India and Pakistan, I would submit that we retain the same robust objective and psychological defense against a direct attack on us or our allies that we’ve had throughout the nuclear age: Mutually-Assured Destruction (with the fitting acronym, “MAD”). As long as the leader of a nuclear power – even one as stressed as Mr. Putin is at present – truly believes that launching a nuclear attack against us or our allies will elicit a nuclear response, I don’t believe s/he will do it. The media focuses regularly on North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un. I would assert that Mr. Kim’s posturing is strategically defensive (to protect himself against the U.S. and China) rather than offensive. He undoubtedly realizes that the one sure thing that will happen if he launches a nuclear strike is that he himself will die. (If our counterstrike doesn’t get him, the Chinese will.) While an impending nuclear Iran is obviously of concern, I would submit that the conservative Shia Islam the regime imposes at home casts a patina of theocratic zealotry over its foreign policy aims, which I see as plain-old territorial: to dominate the Middle East. I would suggest that similar to Mr. Kim, its leaders must recognize that providing nuclear provocation to either the United States or Israel, no matter how it goes for us, won’t end well for them. There is, obviously, a key caveat to this: the world must believe that the President of the United States will respond if either the U.S. or its allies are attacked. Save Mr. Trump, we’ve had such a President throughout the nuclear age; our safety in this quarter depends on such continuing.
Climate Change threatens us all. There are those in America who still question its severity but few if any still doubt its existence. Many of the nations that are now and soon will be suffering the greatest environmental hardship did little to cause the danger and have no ability to meaningfully address it. The United States cannot fix the problem alone, but we are among the fortunate few nations that have it within our power to make changes, and to encourage others to make changes, to meaningfully reduce its impact. Perhaps more importantly, at this stage American ingenuity is the most likely vehicle we have to develop new scientific approaches to clean up the mess that we have played such a large part – for decades, clearly unwittingly — in creating.
Despite all of these advantages, I recognize that we are holding elections next month in which it seems likely that the Republican Party – now completely dominated by MAGA fascists and fools and the cowards that bow before them — will gain control of at least one, and perhaps both, houses of Congress. There is nothing here to cheer those that consider America the “beacon of freedom” described by President Ronald Reagan. However, no matter the Congressional political complexion as of January, 2023, a good man remains President. He will be able to defend if not extend what I consider to be an impressive array of achievements over the last two years (an assessment worthy of a separate post). More importantly from a strategic political standpoint, MAGAs seem poised to overplay their hand in the House of Representatives. They will dance to Donald Trump’s tune. They give rein to the excesses of the likes of U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz, U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert. They will at least try to impeach Mr. Biden and current House Speaker U.S. CA Rep. Nancy Pelosi. They will hound Hunter Biden. They will attempt to hold America’s debt ceiling hostage. They will seek to cut funding to Ukraine. They will vote to repeal or restrict the Affordable Care Act. They will propose major changes to Social Security and Medicare. Almost certainly, they will pass a bill imposing severe national limitations on abortion. Their legislative efforts will either die in the Senate (even if Republicans control that chamber) or will be vetoed by President Biden. I believe that what these forays will do – because I believe that the majority of Americans value genuine democracy and hold America to be a well-meaning nation – will cause a backlash against MAGA excesses that will make it easier for the 2024 Democratic Presidential nominee to win the presidency (if the electoral process is fair) than will be the case if Democrats continue to control Congress. Our experience since President Franklin Roosevelt – brought into the starkest relief by Donald Trump – has shown us that our democracy ultimately depends not on Congress but upon who sits in the White House.
Through the wisdom, industry and perseverance of our forebears and our land’s natural bounty, no other nation on earth has the advantages and opportunities we do today. Which means: It’s up to us to keep faith, and to uphold the promise of America. Stay well.