We are in the midst of living with two diametrically opposed, competing narratives: On the one hand, there is the view that Trump is destroying our democracy. On the other, that he is making America great again. The intent here is to present both points of view along with supportive evidence, such as it is, and then to undertake a critical analysis of both sides of this matter.
The destruction of our democracy
Two of the pillars that support our democracy are respect for, and a willingness to abide by, the rule of law. The other is a free press. Trump has both under assault. He is currently, the target of several lawsuits which allege that he is in violation of the US Constitution’s “Emoluments” clause. His travel ban in its’ original form had to go through three iterations before it finally passed constitutional muster, and then by the slimmest 5-4 US Supreme Court vote. Trump’s constant attacks on our Intelligence community, the Department of Justice and the FBI have been so widely reported as to have entered the realm of common knowledge. At every turn, 45 has sided with authoritarian regimes like Russia’s, his claims to the contrary (1). He labels as “fake news”, any political reporting that shines a negative light on his words and actions. Never mind that these reports are subjected to stringent journalistic standards that require their being verified by at least one independent source.
Counter-posed against this verifiable recent history, we have a feckless GOP-controlled Congress that has consistently proven itself unable to rise up en masse and state in no uncertain terms what is going on. Their silence has allowed the president’s supporters to advance their counter-narrative free of any push-back from the very people in Washington that they elected to represent them. (2)
Making America great again
The typical Trump devotee will call your attention to the US economy; the unemployment rate, growth in their 401-K portfolio, the Dow’s advance, accelerated wages, and how the Trump/GOP tax cuts are working. There is a singular focus on these macro-variables; nothing else is worth considering.
Taken on face value without further analysis, these indices paint a rosy picture. The reality, is that the domestic economy’s status is not as glossy as it appears. Here are some facts worth pondering: According to Bloomberg News, wages have increased at or above expectations for just 14% of salaried workers, leading to what has been termed “wage rigidity”. Closely related to this fact is the recognition that for the average worker, wages are not keeping up with inflation. Even for an employee who got a decent weekly “bump”, about half of that is being eaten up by a higher cost of living.
Next, there is the matter of growth in an individual’s 401-K account. The sad reality is that only 32% of the total work force owns such an investment. Part of the problem here is that the availability of a 401-K is employer-dependent; i.e. does your company offer one? Statistics show that only 79% of US companies offer them, and only 41% of employees exercise their option of buying into one. How can millions of Americans derive benefit from a 401-K account when they simply don’t own one?
Finally, there is the matter of the Trumpian tax cuts and their impact. As outlined above, little of that money has filtered down to workers in the form of better wages. The same individuals would benefit from an end-of-year reduction in their income tax liability, provided that they pay taxes. But, as then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney noted, 47% of us have net earnings that fall below the taxable level. So, they gain nothing. Now it is true that some companies gave employees a one-time bonus. While that can’t be dismissed out of hand, the inflation cited above (including higher gas prices) have already eaten into that largesse.
The biggest beneficiaries of 45’s tax cuts were and remain US corporations. They used the reductions in their taxable earnings to engage in stock buy-backs and enhanced dividend payments to stockholders. This had the direct effect of making the rich, richer.
The evidence that Trump is undermining our democracy is right there before our eyes. That cannot be mitigated by economic indices that, while favorable, are less than they appear to be when submitted to closer examination. But, those same indices do stand as a “collection of shiny objects” that have distracted far too many people from seeing what is happening to bedrock principles of our democracy.
- Trump has often boasted that he has been “tough on Russia”, often referring to sanctions that he has imposed on that country. This is thoroughly disingenuous. When Russian meddling in our election became known, Congress moved to imposed on existing sanctions, new ones. Trump threatened a veto whereupon. Congress proceeded anyway. Credit then for the sanctions belongs to the Congress and not at all to 45.
- See “Allegiance: To what or to whom?” posted at this site a few weeks ago.