[Preface: we at the Sarasota Institute focus not on policy but on the larger dynamics and trends we see for the next decade and this century. We believe that both democracy and capitalism need to be updated and reinvented for this century. This means that we do have to look at elections and current policies to be able to suggest what are out of date, of the last century, and not on the side of history. The key issues for us are the ten across the top of this web site. In none of them is the current president ready to lead into the future when unity – e pluribus unum – to face our collective future will be essential. IF you take any issue with this column, please email us with your opinions for publication. Thank you!]
Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency in 2016 using the slogan “Make America Great Again.” The slogan is Trump’s admission that America had fallen from its majestic heights. America needs a rebooting. Trump will supply that rebooting. He will build a Wall that Mexico will pay for. It will keep out people who don’t belong here. He will limit further immigration from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He would remove a lot of federal regulations that hamper the free play of Capitalism. He would rebuild the U.S. military. He would stop China’s stealing of our technology and predatory pricing. He would get our traditional Allies to pay a higher share of our costs for protecting them.
Now he has had nearly four years to “Make America Great Again.” We note that he did nothing to rebuild our decaying infrastructure. He kept tearing apart Obama and our Obamacare health system but offered nothing to replace or repair it. He let his Secretary of Education worsen our public education system by diverting public funds to support private and religious education. Trump paid little or no attention to the nation’s real problems.
In Trump’s Orlando speech on July 17, 2019, he suggested introducing a new slogan for 2020, namely “Keep America Great!” It is ironic. It suggests that he succeeded in making America great again. Now the next four years he will keep America great! In Trump’s Michigan campaign of September 10, 2020, Trumps ad team used the title “Great American Comeback.”
All this raises some serious questions.
- Has America really improved under Trump’s Presidency?
- What really needs to be done to make America Great Again?
America’s Current Weakened State
An American President who really cared about America would publicly acknowledge its problems and talk about solutions. Instead, in every political stump speech Trump makes, he exclaims that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. By making that statement, he not only feeds fiction to his followers but also implies that any deniers would be traitors.
Let’s leave the political rhetoric and look at the facts. A group of Nobel-winning economists regularly prepare an annual Social Progress Index. They collect 50 metrics of well-being – such as nutrition, safety, health, education, the environment, freedom –then combine and weigh the metrics into the Social Progress Index. The September 2020 Social Progress Index found that only 3 countries out of 163 countries were worse off than they were in 2011. The three worse off countries are the United States, Brazil, and Hungary.
Among the countries that did best in improving the quality of life were Norway, Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand. Note that these countries all practice Stakeholder Capitalism, not Shareholder Capitalism. Companies in these countries care about enrichening the lives of their customers, employees and other stakeholders, not just making a lot of money for shareholders.
The United States ranked 19th in this index in 2011 and slipped to 28th in 2020. Poorer countries such as Estonia, Czech Republic, Greece and Cyprus ranked higher that the U.S. in social progress. Here are some specifics. The U.S. ranked No. 91 in access to quality basic education and No. 97 in access to quality health care. The U.S. ranked No. 100 in discrimination against minorities. These latest U.S. rankings were for 2019, pre-Covid. Clearly the United States rankings if measured today would even be lower.
Medical and social researchers did a study of depression among Americans before and during Covid 19. They found that the level of depression was more than 3 times higher during Covid 19. Symptoms include more alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. Depression fell especially hard on individuals in lower economic classes, especially minorities.
What Are the Major Factors Leading to America’s Decline from Greatness?
America’s last period of greatness, power, and prestige was the 1950s. The end of Second World War in 1945 left the United States victorious and in a position to help rebuild the damaged cities of Europe and Asia and to build up a new set of institutions to maintain peace and prosperity. The new institutions included the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Marshall Plan. American manufacturing was in its prime in the 1950s providing plenty of high paying jobs. Trade Unions were strong and successfully pushed for higher wages and worker benefits. More families moved into the middle class and many settled in growing suburban areas.
American companies made strong investments in innovation and technology. The American kitchen featured new equipment and appliances. Homes had their telephones, radios and early television sets. American companies made continuous improvements in mass production using advanced machinery and assembly lines. Larger American companies expanded abroad to take advantage of their expanded capacity.
In the 1960s, large American companies started to build factories abroad to take advantage of lower labor costs in poorer countries. Over time, more American production took place abroad, leaving fewer jobs in the U.S. This rush to globalization promised to reduce living costs in the U.S. Only later did American workers realize that they were surrendering their jobs in America for lower living costs in America.
A second development was the rise of robotization, the increased replacement of unskilled labor with machines. Advances in new technology threatened to decrease the number of available jobs. American businesses pushed Congress to pass new laws (Taft-Hartley) to weaken the trade union movement. The weakened unions were less able to protect workers and their jobs from either going abroad or from robotics.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan emerged with powerful new management techniques and practices and made heavy inroads into important American industries including autos, motorcycles, watches, camera, optical instruments, pianos, radios, television sets, and video recorders. Japan introduced new management practices such as kaizen (improving all the time), canban (just-in-time JIT production, zero defects and quality circles. For a while, it looked like Japan led the world in product quality and marketing mastery.
America’s muscle was also considerably weakened by carrying on a set of wars during the second half of the 1900s. They were the Korean War (1950-53), Vietnam War (1955-1975), and the Cold War against the spread of Soviet Communism (1947-1991). As if this was not enough, the U.S. chose to launch the Iraq War (2003-2011). These wars considerably drained the country’s strength and greatly increased our national debt.
The U.S. also suffered from periodic recessions following the post World War 2 period. From 1945 to 2001, 10 recessions occurred lasting an average of 10 months followed by expansions lasting an average of 57 months. Then a Great Recession struck the nation and the world (2007-2009) with the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble and the drastic drop in home prices. American banks had extended sub-prime mortgages to credit-unworthy people and this created debt obligations that froze the credit system and led to a deep recession. The United States is still recovering from this financial crisis to this day.
To add further insult to injury, the U.S. was hit in March 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic launching another severe recession eleven years after the Great Recession 2007-2009). Today’s unemployment rate is higher than it was in the Great Recession. Through no fault of their own, people have lost jobs, pay, health care, or small businesses they started. President Trump recently admitted to badly handling this pandemic, letting it spread relentlessly causing a huge number of American infections, deaths, and job destruction. Instead of pushing for lockdowns, mask wearing, and social distancing, Trump encouraged his followers to ignore it and get back to work. His interest lay only in getting the economy going again before the November 3 election so that he could mismanage the country for another four years.
All this time Trump concentrated on fighting and blaming China for many U.S. problems. China was stealing our technology and keeping its export prices artificially low and taking market share away from us. So Trump decided to launch a tariff trade war with China, putting big duties on imports from China and discouraging American investments in China. These actions ended up hurting our farmers and gaining little in return.
During the last decade of 2010-2020, China showed the world its great strength and strategy, much like Japan had challenged the U.S. in 1970-1990. China created the largest reduction in poverty in China that the world had ever seen. Its new billionaires built some of the most impressive skyscrapers, shopping centers and airports. China built the world’s fastest trains connecting some of its most important cities at a top speed of 268 miles per hour. And China launched its Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 aiming to help 100 countries with development projects that will shorten the world’s global supply chains. This initiative will create a transport infrastructure network connectiing the sub-regions in Asia and linking Asia, Africa and Europe to boost commercial efficiency. This is the kind of dream project of big thinking that the U.S. used to be known for. Even Obama’s initiative of launching the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aimed at containing China’s economic preponderance never got far and it was cancelled by Trump on his first day in office.
All said, the U.S. passed through a terrible set of global trends, wars, recessions, and a pandemic, and an unfit President that all sapped the nation’s strength and reduced us to a boastful and swaggering nation and leader no longer trusted to provide leadership in the world’s uncertain future.
What Needs to Be Done to Makes America Great Again
Whoever leads the U.S. after the November 2020 election must fix the three broken U.S. systems: our political system, our economic system, and our social system. Here we propose the main improvements that are likely to get support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Fixing Our Political System
Our political system is a representative democracy fortified with a 238 year-old Constitution and Bill of Rights and an orderly system of laws. President, Trump has launched different initiatives showing his disrespect for our system. Trump has impugned the press as creating fake news. He claims that the Democratic party is trying to establish socialism and destroy our country. He suggests that we delay the November election. He says that if he loses the election, the election was rigged by fake mail-in ballots. Trump hardly ever talks about our real problems, offers no vision of needed policies in his possible second term, and renames each opponent with a despairing name like Sleepy Joe Biden, aimed to certify their weakness.
We need to restore respect for our Constitution that embodies the greatest respect for human rights. We need to make sure that our elections represent the will of the people. The overall goal is to advance the Common Good of all Americans. We need to move away from fighting over differences and building unity on the basis of our common goals. Here are the main policies and actions that will create a more representative government.
- Reduce Gerrymandering that keeps reelecting incumbents for a much longer period than is good for the nation.
- Build more Bipartisanship in Congress and speed up the evaluation and voting on proposed bills.
- Replace the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court that reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.
- Eliminate or redesign the Electoral College to represent better the actual voting patterns in that election.
- Insure that Mail-in Voting is a trusted system and change the election day to a national holiday.
Fixing Our Economic System
Our economic system is largely free market capitalism where companies take whatever decisions will advance their profits and wealth. Companies have shown a willingness to contribute to charity and certain causes. The Business Roundtable has encouraged more member companies to move from Shareholder Capitalism to Stakeholder Capitalism and also give more support to climate problems by switching to renewable energy and eliminating waste. Here are other policies that aim to improve the performance of our economic system.
- Encourage policies of Made in America to bolster American manufacturing and agriculture.
- Raising the Minimum Wage to $15 or to a livable wage so that workers don’t have to borrow money to meet their weekly food and housing expenses.
- Improve Human Capital by supporting better primary education, technical education and apprenticeship training and systems for identifying current and future jobs.
- Improve the Immigration System to let more talented foreign individuals to train in the United States and more wealthy foreigners to invest in the U.S.
- Develop a major plan to improve our Infrastructure of roads, bridges, ports, electrical systems, water systems and clean energy systems.
- Revive the the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aimed at containing China’s economic preponderance.
- Put higher taxes on higher incomes of more than $500,000 to reduce Income Inequality. Reverse Trump’s tax cuts for corporations.
Fixing Our Social System
The aim of our social system is to build a cohesive culture where people care and respect each other and show a willingness to collaborate to make life better for all. Here is a list of policies to improve our social system.
- During Covid, continue to urge Safe Behavior — mask wearing, social distancing, testing and tracing –until a reliable and widely available vaccine comes into existence.
- Improve our Heath Care System to cover everyone and is affordable. Improve our hospitals capacity to handle pandemic crises.
- Establish a government-run Child care program and also help for the Elderly and people with disabilities. Provide better access to home and community based care and elevate the pay and benefits for caregivers.
- Invest in an Environmental Program to produce cleaner air and water and move toward a zero-carbon footprint society.
- Fix the Prison System by replacing private-for-profit prisons and dedicate prisons to rehabilitation and job and educational training. Use more monitoring devices to release prisoners with minor offenses.
- Establish a Pre-Kindergarten Programsfor early learning for 4 to 5 year olds.
- Preserve and expand Social Security.
- Establish a program to bring about more Racial Justice in housing and hiring practices.
- Establish a program to help the Aggrieved White Minority who lost jobs that went overseas or closed down and provide job training opportunities.
- Provide more care for Veterans so they don’t end up homeless.
- Establish an annual system to measure and report on whether S. Happiness and Welfare improved or declined.
What Further Improvements Can Be Considered and Debated in a Future Election?
During the Democratic Party’s search for leadership for the 2020 election, Joe Biden became the party’s choice. Joe Biden is a highly experienced politician with strong relations with key decision makers around the world. His demeanor is soft and friendly, quite the opposite of Trump’s demeanor. Joe’s policies would be center policies for the Democratic party and avoid policies further to the Left.
Two of the Democratic Presidential nominees were more on the left. We can benefit from listing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s policies because the country, while not ready for them now may be ready for them later.
Senator Bernie Sanders policies
- Medicare for All – a single payer system.
- Gun Safety
- Revitalizing Rural America
- Housing for All
- Green New Deal
- College for All
- Workplace Democracy
- Expand Social Security
- Honoring our Commitment to Veterans
- Free Child Care and Pre K for All
Senator Elizabeth Warren policies
- Student-debt Relief
- Free tuition and zero fees for Americans attending two-year and four-year public colleges and aid for Black Colleges and Universities.
- Ultra-millionaire tax (wealth tax)
- Bringing down the Maternal Mortality Rate, particularly for black women.
- Bringing down the Opioid Crisis.
- Breaking up Big Tech.
- Breaking up Big Agriculture
- Protecting Public Lands.
- Protecting Abortion Rights
- Housing for All
- Bring back Glass-Steagall to prevent Banks from engaging in both retail and investment banking and possibly breaking up the Big Banks