USA TODAY US Edition
Despite what candidates say, it’s not ‘Mourning in America’
Listening to several of the presidential candidates these days can leave the impression that America is turning into some kind of hellhole.
On the Republican side, one hears constantly of America’s pending demise, brought on by high taxes, excessive regulation, unpoliced borders, low moral standards, unconstitutional government, feckless foreign policy and a dwindling military.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson kicked off Thursday’s GOP debate by declaring, “The nation is heading off the abyss of destruction.” Front-runner Donald Trump regularly tells audiences that “our country is going to hell.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has put out an ad that might best be called “Mourning in America.” It tracks Ronald Reagan’s famously sunny “Morning in America” ad of 1984, only it paints an unrelentingly bleak picture, asserting that “our country is more vulnerable, divided and diminished than ever before.” More divided than ever? Has Rubio never heard of the Civil War?
On the Democratic side, one hears Bernie Sanders’ endless tirades about how Wall Street has so rigged the economy that a political revolution — by which he means a lot of spending on government benefits — is needed.
To a large degree, these candidates are mirroring the gloom many Americans feel amid a sluggish economy and the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group. But the candidates are also playing a cynical game, trying to alienate or depress much of the electorate so that only their most ardent supporters turn out at the polls.
Voters should be wary of this pessimism. Despite the many difficult problems facing the nation, in many ways the U.S. is in remarkably good shape. Its military is far superior to any other. Its private sector and university systems are envied worldwide. And its economy has held up while many others have faltered.
Since the bottom of the Great Recession, 13.6 million jobs have been created, pushing the unemployment rate from 10% to 4.9%. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, federal taxes have averaged 16% of the economy, the lowest during any presidency since World War II.
The millionaires and billionaires that Sanders likes to castigate include people such as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and famed investor Warren Buffett, all of whom have pledged much of their fortunes to charity.
As Buffett put it over the weekend in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, “For 240 years, it’s been a terrible mistake to bet against America, and now is no time to start.”
Abroad, the U.S. remains remarkably popular: A median of 69% of people overseas have a positive image of the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. As for immigration, would you rather live in a nation that people want to come to, or one where everyone is trying to get out?
America is, of course, not without problems. One of the biggest, in fact, is its dysfunctional political culture built on confrontation and intransigence. This culture hinders efforts to address challenges such as wage stagnation, middle-class manufacturing jobs lost to globalization and technology, rampant opioid addiction, escalating debt driven by unaffordable benefit programs, and a fraying world order.
The candidates’ negativism, however, has gotten out of hand. This is still a great country.