Doug O’Brien: The Ununited United States

For the Monitor
Published: 12/24/2018 12:15:07 AM

Remember when most all Americans shared common values, regardless of which political party you supported?

We cherished free speech, honesty, hard work, the rule of law, liberty, loyalty, love of family, our faith and America. We stood side by side for our country, not yours or not mine. Remember those days when we took pictures of other people, not ourselves?

Those perceptions of a common national identity are essential to our democracy, but they are threatened. However, much of today’s nationalist revival is in reaction to the failure of global initiatives, when corporations moved off shore to sites providing cheap labor, lower taxes and fewer regulations.

This nearly 50-year effort has left behind a class of angry folks as companies shrunk or closed down manufacturing across the country, but particularly in our Southern and Midwestern states. Those lost jobs reduced family incomes, lessened state tax revenues and caused declining social services.

Folks left behind were appropriately incensed and that political base sought revenge and elected Donald Trump our president. Those regions are also the base of evangelical support, another group irate at a “liberal” Supreme Court and America’s moral decay.

That, coupled with the moral vacuum existing in Washington, D.C., on both sides of the aisle, reflects a country divided by greed and run by the elite and lobbyists. This must stop.

While Trump’s election is the result of these sorry conditions, he is not the cause – although he exacerbates these issues by actions like assaulting the free press, describing it as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.”

By doing so, along with attacking our basic institutions such as the CIA and the FBI, he is unraveling the key linchpins of our free society. To make matters worse, many of his followers believe him.

We cannot call news “fake” because we don’t like it. We must keep writing, digging for facts, reporting and asking questions. Adversarial exchanges are a key part of the process. It is called a “free press” because it operates independently.

As citizens, it is our duty to be informed, to seek answers and to read widely, to include works where we may have disagreement. Of course, that does require the free press to be fair, free of opinions and with reasonable headlines.

Also, this situation is made much worse since the advent of social media, that unfettered source now the basis of information for so many of us.

For example, Facebook, which now reaches 2 billion people worldwide, is a primary source of misinformation and they must be held accountable. At the other end of the spectrum is the extremism of political correctness, which often precludes the truth as we are at risk of possibly offending someone.

The irony is that much of Trump’s electorate has acted against their own interest. He is not a populist. Just look at his tax policy, his actions with the EPA, his health policy, his labor policy and his appointments.

Labor’s interests have received no representation at all but rather the jobs have gone to people with strong financial connections or strong corporate interests. As he said, “I love the poorly educated.” His claim to stand with working Americans is one his biggest lies, quite a feat in itself. He is a scam, as was recently disclosed by the tax schemes dealing with his late father’s estate.

Moreover, “Mr. Tariff’s” efforts against our major trade partners has resulted in our largest trade deficit ever, particularly with China. And then there was his tax bill that favored (80 percent) the 1 percent and corporations, the latter which used the windfall to buy back hundreds of millions of shares, resulting in share price increases benefiting CEO packages.

Oh yes, in this time of a rising economy, we will also have our largest budget deficit ever, up trillions since Trump came to office.

One might add that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has played Trump, and most world leaders are looking at us quizzically. This is also the first year that every major investment arena will be down since the 1929 depression. Atta boy, Donnie!

Beyond this, the St. Louis Federal Reserve predicts that 60 percent of middle-class Americans will lose their jobs to “artificial intelligence” within 20 years. What a frightening scenario, and what will happen to these folks? Where are the plans to educate and job train them and to cover the resulting income tax deficit?

And how do we ultimately deal with China and their 2025 plan that pushes them past the U.S. in many areas?

Yes, we have willfully transferred too much technology to China and they’ve stolen much more. They are guilty also of cybertheft and hidden trade subsidies. Trump is correct here, but tariffs are not the answer. The victim now will be the American consumer.

To further comment on President Trump, he is a tyrant and would-be dictator. Those who survive under him are sycophants, like the wind-up Mike Pence.

Trump is a sociopathic narcissist motivated only by personal desire. He sees other people as existing only for his benefit, necessary but disposable. He will and does lie, trample, cajole, manipulate and steal from them without any sense of guilt or regret.

These are the same character flaws that made him distrusted and disliked in New York City business and social circles for 40 years prior to his election.

He disparages stronger people, as when he referred to John McCain’s heroism by saying, “I like people who aren’t captured.” This from a man whose male family members have never served in our nation’s military. Not his grandfather in World War I, his father in World War II, his two brothers nor his two grown sons – and of course not The Donald, who received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War due to a trumped-up foot ailment.

Personally, my war heroes at least served in a U.S. uniform.

Additionally, he is a bully. His behavior, his crass language, his simplistic tweets, slogans and fear mongering are threatening our basic cultural norms, inviting others to be uncivil, too. Along with this comes the glorification of coal, gas and oil mining over science and technology, the elevation of white supremacy, nationalistic values harmful to world trade that has improved the quality of life for virtually all Americans, plus the beating down of legitimate social causes and the apparent neutering of the legislative branch.

At least in January there will be some braking power in place.

We are living in an America where falsehoods have become the strangely new accepted norm, and by displacing reason by emotion, fear and mistrust, Trump has had a terribly destructive effect on our national values and our everyday culture.

With the president now facing 17 federal and state investigations as to his “criminal” activities, perhaps some changes are in the future.

Going forward, how do we give clarity to the principles that once undergirded our great nation? We appear to be in an unstable equilibrium. We need a great symbiotic cause achieved through a common community effort.

It seems we are now divided by greed and the sinful nature of man. Our current environment, with its political acrimony, where friends and family members turn away from each other, isn’t to anyone’s real benefit. We must recognize that we are legitimately many different interests in a very diverse society that naturally presents an endless array of confrontations.

Remember when compromise wasn’t a dirty word? That said, it is time to unite the United States.

In closing, I am reminded of Longfellow’s beautiful poem, “I Heard the Bells on Chistmas Day.” Here are two of its stanzas:

And in despair I bowed by head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Hopefully, as we celebrate this most wonderful time of the year, may we hear the bells pealing and may we begin to work together to restore peace at home and throughout the world with good will to men.

God bless America, and let us make her greater. Be well, and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

(Doug O’Brien, the former CEO of First N.H. Banks and the Grappone Companies, lives in New York.)

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