It’s Not Trump, US In Rapid Decline, Still In Wars

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As conditions in the U.S. deteriorate, the world will continue to suffer the consequences of U.S. military force — but without the mitigating influences of U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy.

The first signs of decline are physical. Citizens don’t grow as tall. They don’t live as long. They start killing each other in large numbers.

Sounds like the post-mortem for a society that disappeared long ago, a conclusion that archaeologists deliver after sifting through bone fragments and pottery shards. Why, the puzzled scholars ask, did such a vibrant society, which produced beautiful art and remarkable scientific advances, fall apart so rapidly and leave so little behind in the unforgiving rainforest?

This time, however, the diagnosis is being provided in real time. And the society in decline is the most powerful country in the world.

According to the most recent global health surveys, the United States is witnessing a decline in life expectancy for the first time in nearly a quarter century. America is also the first high-income country to see its adults, on average, no longer growing taller. Writes Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post:

The reasons for the United States’ lag are well known. It has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any of the countries in the study, and the highest obesity rate. It is the only one without universal health insurance coverage and has the “largest share of unmet health-care needs due to financial costs,” the researchers wrote.

I’d like to pin this one on Donald Trump. But U.S. decline has been ongoing for some time.

For instance, the United States ranked 16th in the 2014 Social Progress Index developed by Michael Porter at the Harvard Business School. Two years later, the United States slipped to 19th place, with particularly mediocre scores in environmental quality (#36), nutrition and basic medical care (#37), and access to basic knowledge (#40).

Let’s compare that to Canada, which sat near the top of the rankings at number two in the SPI. Canada was a little better on environmental quality (#32), quite a bit better on basic medical care (#26), and a whole lot better on access to basic knowledge (#2).

Even though Trump can’t be blamed for these mediocre social indicators, his party’s steadfast opposition to spending on social welfare and the environment certainly contributed to the problem. And Trump’s promise to “replace” Obamacare, cut social spending even further, and roll back regulatory oversight — all while boosting the Pentagon budget by an extraordinary 10 percent — will send the United States into free fall. The violent crime rate, which dropped nearly in half over the last 20 years despite what Trump claims, may well start to edge up as our pro-gun president makes firearms even more widely available and the economy takes a turn for the worse.

After what Donald Trump does to the United States, Americans won’t be able to stand tall and proud. That’s because we’ll either be short, sick, or dead.

What Goes Up…

Predictions of the eclipse of American power have been around since Donald Trump was a 30-something playboy.

It’s not just the overall health of the population and the toxicity of the environment. The United States has been hobbled by an enormous federal debt, an overextended global military presence, our failing infrastructure, and a paralyzed political system. It’s no wonder that so many Americans were sufficiently fed up in November to vote for anyone who promised to shake up the status quo.

Many Trump supporters are already having second thoughts after witnessing their leader’s first weeks in office. The new administration has given every indication that it’s exchanging the status quo for something incomparably worse.

Much of the problem lies with Trump himself. He has been erratic, often incoherent, and so disconnected from reality that he might be the first president to tweet himself out of office (if the investigation into his campaign’s connections to Moscow doesn’t get him first).

Say what you will about the early Roman emperors, they at least knew something about governance. Then, in the 1st century AD, the imperial stock started to run thin and the empire ran into serious trouble under the deranged progeny of Augustus. Donald Trump is the Caligula of our times: lascivious, incurious, and power-drunk. At what point will our American Caligula, running out of willing and even marginally suitable candidates, try to appoint a horse to his cabinet?

It’s bad enough from a domestic standpoint to have a laughing-stock for a president. The international implications are even worse. As Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent, “It will be difficult for the U.S. to remain a super-power under a leader who is an international figure of fun and is often visibly detached from reality. His battle cry of ‘Fake News’ simply means an inability to cope with criticism or accept facts or views that contradict his own. World leaders who have met him say they are astonished by his ignorance of events at home and abroad.”

It’s no surprise that other countries are rushing to take advantage of the Trump administration’s early missteps. “It’s not just that Trump seems to have abandoned the larger geopolitical playing field to America’s principal rivals,” writes analyst Michael Klare. “He appears to be doing everything in his power to facilitate their advance at the expense of the United States. In just the first few weeks of his presidency, he has already taken numerous steps that have put the wind in both China’s and Russia’s sails, while leaving the U.S. adrift.”

China sees an enormous opportunity to cast itself as the responsible global leader on trade and climate change. Russia is angling for more influence in its near abroad, the eastern parts of Europe, and the Middle East. Germany and the European Union more generally have sought to replace the United States as a moral leader on diplomacy, human rights, and intercultural engagement.

It’s as if the empire has already fallen apart and the rivals are carving up the corpse. Except that it’s not territory that they’re grabbing, but chunks of America’s political and economic capital.

Those who believe that the United States has had only a malign influence on the world will cheer this downgrade in status. But so far only America’s soft power has taken a hit. The Pentagon remains on the ascendant. The world will continue to suffer the consequences of U.S. military force but without the mitigating influences of U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy.

What about the Stock Market?

So, if everything is doom and gloom, why is the stock market so bullish right now?

The S & P 500 rose to record highs this week. So did the Dow Jones industrial average, establishing the longest stretch of gains in 30 years. Naturally, Trump has claimed credit for all this even as he has complained of inheriting “a mess” from Barack Obama. Kellyanne Conway rushed to judgment as well, attributing the market expansion to “the Trump effect.”

The stock market responds to short-term trends and signals, and it’s focused largely on the health of the business sector. Trump has promised tax cuts, a helping hand to military contractors and energy companies, and a big infrastructure development plan. What’s not to like if you’re a CEO or a large corporation?

But beware irrational exuberance. Much of what Trump is doing is setting up Wall Street for a very unpleasant fall. The administration’s trade policies, particularly with Mexico, will hit producers hard. The infrastructure bill may not come until 2018. The impact of simultaneously adding $54 billion to the Pentagon budget and cutting taxes will throw the economy seriously out of whack.

Ultimately, however, the health of Wall Street is not the issue — it’s the health of Main Street that matters most. When the Obama dividend runs out and economic indicators start to turn south, when the coal mines and steel plants fail to magically return to their glory days of the 1950s, when farmers and blue-collar workers see how much their livelihoods depend on good relations with the world beyond U.S. borders, Trump will have a full-blown revolt on his hands. Then we’ll finally understand the real reason for the boost in Pentagon spending.

Martial law, anyone?

  • tibetan cowboy

    Totally ridiculous to attribute the self-destruction of American culture and society to Trump at all. He’s been in office less than 2 months? Gimme a break. Obama and dubya did massive damage to this country over their criminal activities spanning the globe for 16 years, not 2 months! Seems to me this author is raising spectres that are non-existent so far. Yes, Trump’s reign will put a lot more nails in this rotten coffin but he’s only just begun, and it’ll deteriorate even faster which is hard to measure at this point, the rate of decline. But, those of us (what? 2%) of the population that inform ourselves know we’re going down and Trump is merely the latest of the lying cowards like Obama and dubya destroying our lives. Congress has the last word on most laws directing the nation, even if the president can veto laws, and he does: all the good laws and promotes all of the horrible policies having to do with medical and military.

  • Roc RIzzo

    This all started when people were conned into voting for Ronnie Raygun. He started this whole thing, and we are suffering now, and people still think that the bass turd was some sort of saint or something. They keep feeding these folks the lies, repeat them over and over and over and over again, to the point where they now believe those lies as truth.
    No it didn’t start with tRUMP, it started before many of his supporters were born.

  • Wacanta

    “I’d like to pin this one on donald trump. But US decline has been ongoing for some time”.

  • Peter Baldwin

    This is not just a challenged President. This is nothing short of a
    corporate/military coup that appears more fascist every day. This is
    a tsunami! It also did not just pop up overnight. It is the result
    of decades of deliberate organizing by right wing conservatives.
    Trump is simply surfing the moment to bask in the attention and
    feather his nest. This agenda of dismantling government and the
    safety net will do damage to people and the environment.

    However, the backlash of resistance is growing to such proportions, that not
    only will the coup fail, but the progressive momentum it has inspired
    will be an even larger tsunami of peace, justice, and sustainability.
    This growing dynamic and often Indigenous led resistance is a broad
    coalition of activists in all sectors. The line is drawn in the
    sand. It absolutely must fail and soon for two reasons.

    The primary reason is that the window is closing on our chance to
    possibly keep the climate disruption from precipitating a collapse of
    the life support carrying capacity of the Earth over the next few
    decades resulting in the extinction of essentially all life. The
    second reason is that in order to craft an international
    collaborative strategy in response to this existential threat, there
    must be global cooperation. The infantile climate denial and the
    accent on militarism, isolationism, and saber rattling coming from
    the Trump administration is counterproductive to the focus and
    rapport that is required to cooperating on this monumental task.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    Ummm — an unreservedly grim prognosis, but one that resonates deeply.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to see a full-on return of the “glory days” of the Zionist-neoconservative claque, where it was — and would be again, and in truth still is — the reality that the merest attempt at exposure and discussion of our fraught “entangling alliance” with the criminal Zionist entity so-called Israel is off limits. The media (check out Wolf Blitzer/CNN for just one) and the Zionist-occupied and -controlled Congress are traitorously frenzied in allowing the Zionist program of domination and control, which principally and always centers on the program to delegitimize and remove any chance of human rights, dignity, justice, and freedom for the hapless people and land of Palestine, to trump any rational assessment of and application of U.S. core national-security and moral/ethical interests.

    All in all, we’re indeed in decline that I believe can only accelerate. We’re screwed no matter who’s in “charge.”

  • DHFabian

    I think this article represents the middle class perspective of US decline. I agree with the points, but it overlooks some critically important aspects, which center on our economic deterioration.

    The US is no longer “the most powerful country in the world.” Since the 1980s, our government has effectively redistributed several trillion taxpayer dollars upward, to the very rich/corporate powers. We ended actual welfare aid in the 1990s, and took the first steps to
    similarly “reform” Social Security, targeting the disable. The overall quality of life in the US went from being rated at #1 when Reagan was first elected (far from perfect, but better), down to #48 by the time Obama was elected. Deprivation of adequate food and shelter take a very heavy toll. The overall life expectancy of the US poor has fallen below that of every developed nation.

    Militarily, we’ve been drained out by the longest, most expensive war in US history. Because we shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s, we don’t have the money or means to rebuild this time. Note that we are one one of a number of nuclear armed nations. In the century since WWl, the US has remained engaged in wars more often than not, usually by choice, earning the contempt/rage of much of the world.

  • DHFabian

    Do you know what Zionism is? It has simply been the movement to restore and rebuild the Jewish nation of Israel. This is the sole Jewish nation, the historical and modern Jewish homeland. (In a similar discussion, I can say that I currently live on land that rightfully belongs to the Potawatomi people.) Note that Israel is a tiny country, roughly the size of New Jersey, surrounded by vast, oil-rich Arab nations, most of which seek a 100% “pure” Moslem Mideast. These Arab nation are leading customers of weapons manufacturers of Russia, China, AND the US. It takes everything Israel has got, just to survive.

  • DHFabian

    Yes, it is fascist, by definition, but we can note that much of the country has slowly been embracing fascist ideology for years. (That’s another discussion, but the point is that we see US fascism most clearly in our class war, having stripped our poor of a list of fundamental civil and human rights.)

    I hope your optimism is valid.I personally don’t grasp what is meant by “resist.” We can disagree, even protest as long as we follow all rules and restrictions. Few can afford to do anything that could result in being arrested. Those in power know that the masses will get up every morning, report to work, work hard, and play by all the rules. We can’t risk losing our jobs.

  • DHFabian

    It was Reagan and Clinton who targeted the poor and successfully split apart those who aren’t on the right wing. On the 2%, the unfortunate fact is that the US consists of over 300 million people, most of whom believe they’re among the few who actually “get” what’s going on — and they all contradict each other. Then there’s that slice of the population who realize that the people have been grievously under-informed and misinformed for years.

  • chetdude

    It really started when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce commissioned William Powell to create the framework for the counter-revolution of the Plutocrat/Owner Class against the economic and political gains made by We the People from 1933 to 1971.

    This framework was implemented using billions of (initially) far-right-wing corporate dollars to create a propaganda machine beyond the wildest dreams of previous dictators that convinced enough of We the People to vote for political myths completely against their own best interests.

    The first MAJOR victory was installing the execrable creatures who controlled the Ronald Reagan robot…followed by the democrat wing joining the project in the 80s and the rest is our sorry history…

  • chetdude

    The word you’re searching for is “steal”…

    The ZIonist project was and still is to steal the land occupied relatively peacefully by Arabs, Christians and Jews living together for centuries (or as peacefully as anyone else for nearly 2000 years) in the territory that the “victors” of WWI who carved up the Ottoman Empire called Palestine and create an Apartheid Theocracy for the benefit of mostly affluent European middle-class Jews…

    In Palestine/”Israel” the middle-class is doing to the poor what the Nazis did to them…

  • chetdude

    Well, right now in the microcosm there is an extreme danger of the republican right-wing doing severe damage — killing tens of thousands of USAmericans — not only by denying any access to USAmerican sick care but by slashing Earned Benefits like Social Security and Medicare which will shorten and brutalize the lives of more millions of USAmericans…

    It’s worthwhile to mobilize and put massive public pressure on congresscritters to oppose these republican crimes. And it’s also do-able since we only have to frighten the democrat Senators into holding the line and at least 3 republican Senators to block these execrable bills…

    WHILE we use the opportunity to mobilize the kind of Popular Resistance that Bernie Sanders pointed out would be a necessary prerequisite to make any real Changes…