Researchers have revealed that approximately 90 percent of an iceberg is below the surface of the water. Thus, to really understand this phenomenon, you must dive beneath it to capture observations and take measurements. The same is true with countries. What you see on the surface may not be all you need to sufficiently understand them. This article plunges into issues that may not be obvious to the casual observer when pondering the question “What’s going on far away in the USA?”.
Racism, injustice and police brutality
The composition of the U.S. population is currently estimated at 40% for non-white residents. The forecast is for the non-white population to outnumber the white population by 2045. It should not surprise you that a country where the controversial, racially insensitive President currently resides in a structure referred to as “The White House” – that racial inequality and racial injustice remain urgent national priorities to be resolved. These challenges have received new international focus as scenes on global media platforms document the ongoing pattern of police brutality, excessive use of force, murder, and injustice against people of color in the U.S. The demonstrations/protestors and unfortunate violence you may have witnessed from afar might lead you to believe that this is solely the issue. Although it is now a very public, national priority to confront, there are a myriad of other important components that compose this tip of the iceberg. However, keep in mind that current racial minorities in the U.S. will rapidly become the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth.
Divisive national leadership and societal polarization
During my lifetime as an American citizen (born in the 1950’s) I have never witnessed the U.S. wracked so deeply and consistently by a President who seems to derive pleasure from sowing unhealthy controversy, conflict and division. “United” is not a term that will be ascribed to Donald J. Trump as the nation’s President. Of course, the social unrest during the U.S. civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, advocacy for women’s and gay rights, abortion rights, and the subsequent backlash directed toward the maligned basis for armed conflicts in the Middle East – have all been part of the experience of a generation of Americans who are still alive today.
Partisan political polarization is a reality in the U.S. today. Yet, the degree of the animosity between the two dominant parties is historically unique – including those who consider themselves members of each party. Remember that Donald Trump did not win the 2016 popular vote for President against Hillary Clinton. Evidence of foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is well documented. Thus, Trump is considered an “illegitimate winner” of said election by Democrats. As a narcissist and egotist, Trump remains wounded and angry by this reality.
The next U.S. presidential election is early November 2020. As elections of this importance approach, the vitriol and toxic animosities that currently exist between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. will become more pronounced, more frequent, outrageous, and intense. Expect to witness just that between now and November 2020.
Like many societies, the U.S. is comprised by those who desire to preserve or return to a distant past (primarily Republicans) and those who see the need to adapt, change and embrace the design of a better future (Democrats). Republicans have a penchant to support the requirements of big business while Democrats advocate for the interests and rights of those who labor therein, including small business owners, entrepreneurs, and immigrants (be they legal or undocumented).
Throughout the history of human civilizations, what people believe morphs into their actions (and emotions). Hot topics in the U.S. that further define this polarization include race, discrimination, civil rights, U.S. immigration policy, diplomacy vs. armed military conflicts, the right to possess and use weapons, abortion rights, environmental protection, separation of powers, climate change, trade policy, foreign aid, voting rights, financial crises, infrastructure, income inequality, economic development, social welfare programs, energy policy, healthcare, education (at every level), taxation, and a myriad of foreign policy priorities.
Veracity vs. deception
According to a comprehensive article published by the Washington Post in January 2020, President Trump had uttered (in writing and orally) “more than 16,200 false or misleading claims” since taking office in January 2016. Unfortunately, this has tangibly diminished the credibility of the U.S. across the globe. This ongoing reality (“the virus will simply disappear”) has outraged his opponents in the U.S. and delighted his supporters. Do not expect this pattern to change.
When fundamental veracity in a society is being challenged by ongoing patterns of unequivocal deception by a nation’s leadership – these realities serve as fuel that degrades the necessity for civility in discourse. Civility is a prerequisite for constructive dialog. When civility is degraded, the opportunities for coming to both an agreement on the national challenges to be resolved (priorities) - and the manner in which to address the same (methods) are compromised. The result is a form of decision making apparatus paralysis – as evidenced by the absence of partisan collaborative cooperation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. As of June 2020, the public approval rating for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate is an abysmal 25%. Translation: Nothing much gets accomplished by elected representatives in the U.S. Congress – certainly not on the major challenges that U.S. society must confront. The result is angry and disengaged people who have lost confidence in their elected officials. These people then tend to bond with those they deem kindred spirits and/or likeminded. Thus, the intensity of the polarization increases while the chasm between tribes expands. Thus, politically imperative decisions on societal challenges remain mired in an ongoing vicious circle. Progress remains a distant notion versus a near term possibility.
COVID-19 and the economic impact in the U.S.
According to a July 1, 2020 report from the U.S. government’s Congressional Budget Office, COVID-19 could negatively impact the U.S. economy by a whopping $16 trillion over the next 1decade. The report projects that even when adjusting for inflation, the pandemic is forecast to contribute to a 3% loss in GDP or roughly $7.9 trillion through 2030. As Trump has publicly declared there will be a “V” shaped economic recovery in the U.S. – Trump’s notion stands alone amidst a chorus from economists who state the recovery will take years to realize.
At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. continues to increase in rates of infection, hospitalizations and death at an alarming rate. In April 2020, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was 14.7% - an all-time high other than the Great Depression. Europe recently announced a list of foreign countries whose residents are now authorized to travel to the EU. The U.S. was not on this list, as the Coronavirus pandemic has yet to be controlled effectively nationwide. Why?
A primary factor in the woeful U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic is what I refer to as the Loss Of Risk Aversion (or ‘LORA’). In his most recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman – a Nobel Prize winner in economics, states the “concept of Loss Aversion (hereinafter ‘LA’) is certainly the most significant contribution of psychology to behavioral economics.” The most recent experience with LORA in the U.S. was The Great Recession. The cause has been described as the result of reckless endangerment - the result of unfettered risk taking where the loss of risk aversion was on full display. Clearly, LORA is a human disorder. The Great Recession has been termed a human drama – one that has aptly demonstrated the fallibility of people. LORA infects the minds of real people – impairing the decision-making capacity of man. LORA is viral – it can be transmitted from one person to another. LORA is prone to contagion – as a review of the past two to three decades of U.S. economic history suggests.
Unfortunately for the U.S., the loss of risk aversion is center stage in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After two months of government imposed self-quarantine, people became bored, anxious, and impatient. Government officials desired to forestall the systemic economic deterioration. Government agencies implemented public health guidelines for reopening the economy throughout the country. Unfortunately, those guidelines were not heeded and various regions and states opened too rapidly. Although testing, social distancing, sanitation, quarantine and contact tracing were aspects of the new public health guidelines, people and governments disregarded them. Clearly, the desire to “return to normal” in the U.S. outweighed the necessity to exercise prudent risk aversion to avoid contracting COVID-19. Essentially, U.S. government entities and U.S. citizens experienced a wholesale loss of risk aversion. For far too many in the U.S., the risk of contracting COVID-19 is outweighed by the desire to “return to normal.” Thus, the pandemic in the U.S. continues to be the epicenter of some of the most distressing COVID-19 epidemiological statistics on the planet. Trump’s statements about COVID-19 have fueled the ongoing out of control pandemic (“It’s a hoax, it is under control, China caused this, and the economy matters more than the public health risks”).
Summary and conclusions
With the U.S. Presidential election scheduled for Tuesday November 3, 2020, one should expect that the vast majority of political energies will be focused on this priority. Although Trump is currently polling twelve points behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, expect Trump and the Republican Party to use every resource to attempt to insure his re-election.
Do not expect any major U.S. domestic policy priorities to be resolved during this time – including effectively controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. Expect Trump to pardon several of his criminally convicted political cronies (Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort). Trump will continue to insult the international community. He will continue to pander to Putin. China will remain a target of his angst. COVID-19 will continue to explode in various regions of the U.S. and will spike again in the fall and winter of 2020, as students return to school.
Expect the unexpected from the U.S. between now and the election on November 3, 2020. The U.S. has lost integrity and respect with the world community since Trump was elected President in 2016. This damage will take decades to restore. The domestic policy challenges the U.S. currently faces must be addressed by a new focus, collaboration, ingenuity and a cogent decision making process; elements that are distinctly absent under the nation’s current political leadership.