It was Feb. 20 when The Donald was still saying that “in just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline.”
This had been his platform, a winning one for one part of his electorate (while the other, as we know, would have voted for anyone just to get rid of Hillary and the Democratic establishment), and that was what was indeed happening: more jobs, an unemployment rate down to the lowest level in 50 years, the GDP was growing, and even wages, especially the lowest, were rising to an extent. While poverty had not decreased among Blacks and recent immigrants, the wealth of families had increased—indeed, but which ones? The richest! And it was all in all true that the economy was going well. Was that to Trump’s credit? No, of course not, but as we know, anything becomes an argument when election time is near.
Then, however, came the pandemic, and the White House couldn’t have done any worse.
It is true that a largely privatized healthcare system and a highly unequal society, where the most exposed to contagion are also those from the weaker, poorer and more marginalized classes, were also important factors. As well as a level of social and cultural polarization that only added a chaotic and ultimately suicidal response to the structural problems.
And because of its heavy effects on demand, income and employment, the pandemic shattered the economy. To that was added the lack of (continued) support from the federal administration, due to the fecklessness of Congress and the obtuseness of the president. If even the Wall Street Journal and Wall Street analysts today are viewing the absence of a new “stimulus” with concern, and if even some of the big names in the economic establishment are calling for reason to prevail, talking of collapses if the government doesn’t come to the rescue soon, it means that a gap has finally opened up between the GOP, The Donald and the “haves” of the nation.
If we take a closer look, however, by the end of 2019 things were already not looking so good. People were saying the end of the cycle was approaching. A recession, albeit a weak one, was coming, and it was Trump’s policies that were being blamed.
Donald Trump had been elected on the message that economic liberalism and multilateralism had to be jettisoned, promising to tear up free trade treaties and revive manufacturing, not taking into account that it contributes only 20% to the American GDP. His message was: no more globalization that makes our companies emigrate, no more imports from our competitors (and enemies). But protectionism, for an economy like America’s, is a worse cure than the disease. The Donald wanted to get the satisfaction of tearing up deals, in order to perhaps revive the local coal industry and receive the applause of its workers, ravaged by silicosis.
So, in the three years before the pandemic, 80% of the American economy had slowed down, offset by growing employment in precarious jobs and services—despite the decline in production—and by the high-tech companies. And trade wars had brought agriculture and manufacturing to their knees, shattering globalized and consolidated value chains.
And now, this is America. The pandemic only delivered the bill, multiplied times 100. The drop in GDP in the second quarter was more than 30%, a number never seen before. The stock market—what The Donald usually looks to—had never been as erratic as in the years of his presidency, and now is drifting with no mooring. And then, even with the record low unemployment during his term, there had been many more jobs created during Obama’s presidency, in number and as a percentage, and wages had already been steadily rising since before Obama. In short, The Donald brought nothing new, he only made things worse where he could, and then lost his head during the pandemic and crumbled.
Donald Trump, the firebomb thrower, had indeed ignited fire in the souls of a certain part of the “working class”—mostly white, male, from the de-industrialized hinterlands. In short, the penultimate, while not the last, class in the social hierarchy of one of the most unequal advanced societies on the planet, making them believe that tariffs and walls would bring new prosperity and keep the rest of the world “away.” Among the ranks of this working class, “deaths from desperation”—due to drugs, alcohol, incidents involving firearms and suicides—have become an all-American problem. Also among them, the loss of jobs and loss of status during the abandonment of the plains and suburbs had fueled the vote for one man who promised to make things right.
Now that things are not fine for anybody, frustration and anger are fueling the social divide.
And Donald Trump, in a self-destructive involution that feels dizzying, is fueling the specter of a “civil war” to rally his “forgotten men.”
The establishment that was on his side is only gloating, because even in 2020, the wealth of the richest has only increased. And yet, the psycho-president failed to make America great, and now the largest economy on the planet, on its knees, is waiting to see if it will all collapse or if it will go back to believing in the American Dream, which the equivalents of the Democrats all over the world (including ours) had foolishly believed could be supported by neo-liberalism. Because, as John Prine sang, the reclusive American working class singer who also fell victim to Covid-19, “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore.”
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