by Ghassan Kadi
The more pre-election, post-election and even post-inauguration promises that President Trump breaks, the harder he makes it for himself to “Make America Great again”. But this narrative herein is not based on the political rhetoric and broken promises, rather, it is about a hypothetical scenario that questions if America is realistically able to bring Trump’s slogan to fruition.
“Make America Great Again” is a catch phrase that implies a restoration process of a bygone station of greatness. So before one explores the chances of success of such an ambition, one ought to go back to the basics of how and when America was great in the first place.
Admittedly, America has historically been a country of dreams for many. The pop culture of the 1960’s has even had songs about wanting to live in America and surfing USA. The dream has been realistic and fathomable, especially for Europeans who wanted to seek a better life, and thus the flow of migration began as soon as settlement began, and that flow was later on mirrored by the rest of the world, and it did not stop as yet.
But historically also, America was never a dream for its native people; quite the contrary. The influx of white migrants into America has resulted in one of the greatest, bloodiest and definitely the longest lasting genocides that spanned for over four whole centuries.
As for the young African men and women, even boys and girls, who were raided and stolen from their tribes and villages, taken away from their parents, loved ones and friends, to be sold and traded as slaves, put to hard labour, raped and killed, there was nothing for them to dream for at all in regard to America.
A dream for some and a nightmare for others, it would be hard to say that defining America as a dream has ever been a description that has been ubiquitously endorsed during its early-mid stages of nation-building. Did the global consensus change later on?
As the new nation that became known as the United States of America became independent in the late eighteenth century, another century later, it suffered from a brutal civil war and the new nation was not really able to stand on its feet and have its place on the global scene until the union was saved and Lincoln managed to pass his 13th amendment.
As a result, America prospered, and later on, late in the nineteenth century, America became the biggest global economy, and in hindsight, the few decades that followed up until WWI, America came the closest ever to being great at different levels. President Woodrow Wilson made it clear that the USA did not join the war for any gain of territory or to build an empire. He was instrumental in setting up the “League of Nations”, the predecessor of the UN.
All the while ignoring that the 13th amendment did not stop racial segregation and we shouldn’t, ignoring that racial inequality persisted and we also shouldn’t, was this short period, the few decades spanned in between the presidencies of Lincoln and Truman enough to classify America as a great nation?
To answer this properly, we must define greatness from a humane perspective. After all, if we allow ourselves to base greatness on wealth, we will have to accept that the Rothschilds, the Soroses and the Rockefellers are the greatest people on earth, but are they? Who is a greater person George Soros or Jonas Salk who invented the anti-polio Salk vaccine and donated it to the world and refused to take any royalties?
The real greatness of people and nations ought to be gauged by their contribution to humanity, easing its pain, spreading knowledge, spearheading liberation and enlightenment, and not by their wealth.
Or is greatness a subject of might? The post-WWII era in which America was elevated to the level of the world’s first nuclear power and most powerful nation, has left behind a legacy of wars that began in Korea and went on unstopped to Syria and counting, and has left a trail of destruction, tens of millions of civilians killed, mostly from impoverished developing countries. Economies were destroyed, infrastructures decimated, which again begs the question, how and when exactly was America ever great?
Whilst America did offer great opportunity for a great number of select people for a great number of years, based on the proper and relevant criteria of greatness, it can be fair to say that America was never really great.
Surely, many people were attracted to America to go and live there and partake in the big “American Dream”, be able to buy a Chevy, buy a house in the suburbs and send their kids to the best schools and universities in the world, all the while have the best doctors and hospitals at their beck and call. But in reality, what is the percentage of Americans who were able to afford those luxuries even during the years of economic boom?
Whilst it might be true to say that in the 1950’s – 1970’s or so, America might have had a living standard that was higher than most other nations, the standard is shrinking at an alarming rate. With nearly 50 million Americans currently on food stamps, it becomes imperative to realize that today’s USA is a country that is wrought with poverty.
But poverty is not America’s only current problem, and when Trump claims that he wants to” Make America Great Again”, assuming he means it, one wonders if he is simply talking about rebuilding America’s financial prowess.
So if Trump’s take on greatness stops with money, how far can the best ever financial reform process go? Not that there is any sign of it coming from the Trump administration, not that we can see that he is keeping his word by putting America first and stopping all wars, but we must remember that we are looking at a hypothetical situation here, one that has nothing to do with Trump.
In other words, is America able to become great again if Trump was indeed serious about his promise?
The formal and declared American debt stands at nearly $20 trillion dollars, and if calculated on a per capita basis, the figure amounts to $60,000 per every man, woman, and child. But this debt is the tip of the iceberg. With collapsing infrastructure like roads, dams, river levees, schools, airports etc, the restoration of those public facilities constitutes overhead costs that are not budgeted for. They are simply ignored and allowed to decay and rot. These are referred to as “unfunded liabilities”.
It is hard to put an accurate figure on the value of those unfunded liabilities and the estimates vary greatly from a low of $150 trillion to a high of $350 trillion. At the higher estimate figure, the individual debt balloons to nearly $9 million, again, for every man, woman and child. But even at the lower end, the per capita figure is shyly short of $4 million.
When we make balance sheets we have to look not only at liabilities, but also at assets. The estimate of America’s total assets is another elastic figure that also varies from $300 to $550 trillion. That said, if the liabilities figure is indeed in the vicinity of the high $350 trillion figure and that of assets is in the vicinity of the low $300 trillion, then America could well and truly be literally insolvent.
We must remember here that even if the high $550 trillion figure is the correct figure of assets, it does not truly mean much because much of the sub-estimates are based on untapped natural and human resources and are based on today’s value of commodities that can easily crash.
Apart from material assets, there was a time when people around the world talked about “the latest thing from America”. America was the world centre of research and development and innovation in all fields of science and technology, but today’s America does not produce enough engineers, doctors and scientists who can bear the load of a techno-financial revolution that can take America out of the trouble it is facing. When we look today at developments such as China’s massive ultra-fast railway, we can foresee that we are not far from talking about “the latest thing from China”.
On the other hand, the slick, “low budget”, and highly advanced Russian military technology has given America a run for its money. The Russians have been playing their game very smartly, exposing the Americans to a taste of what’s up their sleeve, and –God forbid- in the event of a major escalation between the two super powers, America may find itself with bases and fleets exposed as sitting ducks facing an invisible enemy. It is highly likely that the Russians are not trying to “show off”; as it were, but they are sending strong and clear messages of deterrence to their “American partners”.
Back to economy, it seems likely, as a matter of fact we can safely say that it is highly probable that the demise of the American economy has gone too far and beyond repair. It is also possible that Trump has come to this realization after his inauguration, and that after reaching this realization, he made his U-turn on his promises on the basis that all he has left up his sleeve is a stash of nukes and a mighty war machine.
To reconsider the definition of greatness, does President Trump believe that might alone brings greatness and that by escalating the global bullying role of the United States of America he is going to “Make America Great Again”?
America is certainly a nation that has the highest military budget, largest navy and more off-shore military basis than the rest of the world combined, it has had the world’s biggest economy for many decades and continues to enjoy this status, but has never been a great nation that has spread knowledge and wisdom to the rest of the world. It has used its military might in the past to pillage poor countries and its current financial woes are literally impossible to resolve.
But when it comes to military matters, what is pertinent is that most, if not all, American military ventures have failed to achieve their objectives. After reaching a stale-mate in Korea, a total defeat in Vietnam, after two decades into the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, America is still incapable of gaining the upper hand on the ground.
So if the military is the only trump card left up Trump’s sleeve in order to “Make America Great Again”, on what grounds is he basing his assumption that he can confront and subdue Russia and China combined given that the 125,000 strong American army that invaded Iraq in 2003 was not even able to control the streets of Baghdad?
Ironically, Obama and Trump have both won their campaigns using slogans that are based on desperation; from “Yes We Can” to “Make America Great Again”, the slogans were effectively used to lure in voters who cognize that America is in deep trouble and needs a saviour. Obama has failed and left America with twice the official debt that he inherited on his inauguration day, and Trump will not be able to do much, because like a rusty old car, America is too far gone, and I feel sorry for the good people of America, and there are many of them, including some very good and dear personal friends.
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