Amer­ica has de­fied dooms­day pre­dic­tions be­fore

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

ake Amer­ica Great Again” is the oft-car­i­ca­tured slo­gan of the Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency. When Trump was elected, he boasted of jump-start­ing the econ­omy to achieve an an­nual eco­nomic growth rate of 4 per­cent.

Ex­perts laughed him off as a naif who did not un­der­stand that struc­tural changes in de­mog­ra­phy and tech­nol­ogy made such growth im­pos­si­ble. Many economists pre­dicted that Trump would crash the stock and job mar­kets.

Yet less than two years into Trump’s pres­i­dency, the econ­omy achieved 4 per­cent growth in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018. Un­em­ploy­ment rates are at near-record lows. The stock mar­ket and oil and gas pro­duc­tion are reach­ing un­prece­dented heights.

Such rad­i­cal turn­arounds have been com­mon in U.S. his­tory. As the ancient Athe­nian his­to­rian Thucy­dides noted, large democ­ra­cies are by na­ture volatile, they can mo­bi­lize quickly, and they can change on a dime — some­times in the right di­rec­tion.

In late 1983, Ronald Rea­gan was be­ing writ­ten off a prac­ti­tioner of voodoo eco­nomics. The coun­try was still mired in a re­ces­sion caused by Rea­gan’s ef­forts to break run­away in­fla­tion.

In the 1982 midterm elec­tions, Repub­li­cans lost 27 seats in the House and one in the Se­nate. The man likely to be Rea­gan’s Demo­cratic ri­val two years later, Wal­ter Mon­dale, was con­sid­ered a good bet to win the pres­i­dency, given his youth­ful vigor, his prior ser­vice as vice pres­i­dent and his in­cor­rupt­ibil­ity.

Yet in the 12 months from Novem­ber 1983 to the 1984 elec­tion, the econ­omy grew at an as­ton­ish­ing quar­terly rate of bet­ter than 7 per­cent. Un­em­ploy­ment dropped. Al­most ev­ery eco­nomic in­di­ca­tor showed an un­prece­dented boom.

Mon­dale went down to de­feat in one of the largest Elec­toral Col­lege land­slides in U.S. his­tory, largely be­cause the econ­omy had been rein­vented al­most overnight from a bust to a boom.

In 1940, De­pres­sion-era Amer­ica was re­cov­er­ing from yet an­other down­turn. The New Deal had not re­stored pros­per­ity af­ter the 1929 crash. Europe was largely un­der the con­trol of Nazi Ger­many. Only the United King­dom was left of the Euro­pean democ­ra­cies that had fought Hitler. The Soviet Union was aid­ing Hitler. Im­pe­rial Ja­pan was pre­par­ing to gob­ble up most of the Pa­cific, es­pe­cially or­phaned Euro­pean colonies rich in oil, rub­ber, agri­cul­ture and pre­cious me­tals.

The United Sates was torn apart po­lit­i­cally be­tween iso­la­tion­ists and in­ter­ven­tion­ists. Fights broke out in Congress over whether the coun­try could af­ford to re-arm. The U.S. Army was smaller than Por­tu­gal’s. In al­most ev­ery area of ar­ma­ment, Amer­ica was far be­hind the armed forces of the Axis powers.

Then the world again flipped up­side down. Af­ter Pearl Har­bor, the United States en­gi­neered the great­est eco­nomic ex­pan­sion in his­tory. Within four years, the U.S. econ­omy was greater than that of all its en­e­mies and al­lies put to­gether.

The U.S. Navy had be­come larger than all the navies of the world com­bined by 1944. A once vir­tu­ally un­armed Amer­ica now had more mil­i­tary air­craft that Ger­many, Italy and Ja­pan com­bined.

A war that in early 1942 looked like it might ei­ther go on for years or end in an Axis vic­tory was over less than four years af­ter the U.S. en­tered the con­flict. The Axis powers were not so much de­feated as ru­ined.

World War II was not the first in­stance of a rapid Amer­i­can turn­around in wartime. In the sum­mer of 1864, pes­simists warned that the North could not win the Civil War. Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln faced op­po­si­tion for the Repub­li­can Party nom­i­na­tion, and even if he earned it, he was con­sid­ered likely to lose the Novem­ber elec­tion to Union Gen­eral Ge­orge McClel­lan.

Gen­eral Grant’s Army of the Po­tomac was be­ing bled white in Vir­ginia in vain at­tempts to dis­lodge Robert E. Lee’s de­fend­ers from their en­trench­ments around the Con­fed­er­ate cap­i­tal of Rich­mond. Grue­some en­coun­ters such as the Bat­tle of Cold Har­bor and the Bat­tle of the Wilder­ness had given the de­pressed North­ern pub­lic night­mares.

Then, sud­denly, fan­tasy be­came re­al­ity. The mav­er­ick Gen. Wil­liam Te­cum­seh Sher­man un­ex­pect­edly took At­lanta on Sept. 2, 1864. Eu­pho­ria swept the North. McClel­lan’s sure-thing can­di­dacy crashed.

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