Donald Trump is wrong when he declares that his intention is to Make America Great Again. When has the country ever been in better shape? If the president or anyone else knows it, he’d do well to answer that question.
In the 1930s came the Great Depression, caused by the Wall Street collapse. In the 1940s came the Second World War, immediately followed by the Cold War and the fall of China into communist hands. In the peaceable 1950s, after Korea and its tens of thousands of dead Americans, came the unrest in the Middle East and the ominous national practices to survive a Soviet nuclear attack.
The 1960s brought us racial riots, Vietnam and government lies. In the 1970s, Nixon imploded, and at decade’s end, in the Carter era, bank interest rates climbed to 20 percent, the economy suffered from “stagflation” and it seemed that the period of democracy was coming to an end, overrun by Soviet collectivism. A little later, however, Mikhail Gorbachev buried the Soviet Union and communism was relegated to two loony bins without any real importance: Cuba and North Korea. (In China and Vietnam today we find another genre of dictatorship, distanced from Marxist superstitions.)
In the United States, people’s life expectancy has risen, as happens in almost the whole world; homes are larger and are furnished with all kinds of power appliances (even among the poorest social groups); food abounds and is so inexpensive that the country’s big problem is not hunger but obesity and a gradual increase in diabetes.
The poor — approximately 15 percent of the population — are poor because a family of four receives “only” about $24,000 a year, plus food stamps. Everyone — the poor, the middle class and the rich — has access to electricity, the Internet, potable water, clothing, cell phones, schools, state or private universities, police protection, reasonably efficient judicial systems and opportunities to work and move ahead.
True, the U.S. has problems, but they have always existed. It is a punitive society where three million people are incarcerated. The quality of students decreases while the cost of the tuitions increases. There is no universal health insurance. The price of medicines is sky-high. Drugs are a lethal scourge, to say the least. In some cities there are zones of extreme violence with soaring homicide rates. Notwithstanding, the United States continues to be a place that’s fundamentally free and full of opportunities.
That explains why millions of human beings try to settle in this country. There is no better index of the relative quality of a society than the presence of immigrants. The United States is a magnet because the American Dream is alive. As it was in Venezuela until Chavism came. As it was in Cuba until Castro crushed the illusion that one could prosper through one’s own efforts. As it was in Argentina, until Peronism ruined that great nation with his populist message, intermingled with fascism.
It is true that some countries exist where, in some aspects, people live better than in the United States (half of Europe including Spain; maybe Israel or Japan) but perhaps in none can the immigrants fulfill themselves as in this country, where, in the latest elections, two senators, sons of immigrants, ran for the presidency: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
In the 15th Century, the Spanish poet Jorge Manrique, moved by the death of his father, Rodrigo, wrote a great poem with a neurotically ill-thought verse: “any time in the past was better.” Not true. In those cases, such as the United States, where an institutional continuity exists despite the reversals and luckless junctures, some nations manage to prosper gradually.
Probably that obsessive search for a mythical Golden Age that Trump keeps repeating in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. Conservatives tend to be pessimistic. They invariably see the glass half empty. They associate the profile of society with their own biography. In the past, they were young and handsome. Today, they are old, wrinkled and ugly. The past was better, they believe. That’s not true.
Another poet, a Spanish singer named Joaquín Sabina, has expressed it in a very popular song: “There’s no worse nostalgia than missing what never ever happened.” That’s what’s happening to Donald Trump.
Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Saturday February 3rd, 2018