Trump hugging the American flag, Colin Kaepernick kneeling, and US troops in Afghanistan Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
For all of his bombast, under the leadership of Donald J. Trump the United States has actually grown more and more to resemble a developing nation.
As it happens, the onset of the pandemic tore the mask off all of the rot that had been festering just below the surface of U.S. politics and society. Donald J. Trump, backed by his Republican Party, is the very face of this decline, which manifests itself in five epic failures.
Failure 1: The great giveaway to the rich
The first reason that the United States is rapidly transforming itself into a developing nation is that its President has made one particularly well-calculated move: He has been able to harness the rapacious greed that is at the heart of Republican politics and simultaneously trample on the tepid moderation that is inherent in Democratic politics.
This had already fully manifested itself prior to the extraordinary fiscal interventions related to the pandemic. Soon after Trump took office in 2017, the United States already embarked on a course of fiscal profligacy.
It successfully enacted tax cuts that baked trillion-dollar deficits into the U.S. economy for as far as the eye can see.
As a consequence, U.S. federal debt has become unsustainable without the Fed's printing press — which has pushed past the limits of rational monetary policy.
More and more, the United States' fiscal and monetary accounts have come to resemble those of poorly managed developing nations.
Instead of following long-accepted socio-economic practices, President Trump uses lies and illusion to create a febrile web of illicitness — part oligarchy, part plutocracy and part kleptocracy — that is characteristic of so many developing nations.
Living from paycheck to paycheck
This has manifested itself more and more in income disparities that leave the vast majority of Americans barely able to hang on from paycheck to paycheck, while a privileged few reap the rewards of a system rigged in their favor — again a characteristic of developing nations.
In fact, if the United States were a developing nation and did not play a central role in the governance of the world's multilateral institutions, it surely would have come under scrutiny by the International Monetary Fund for pursuing policies and practices that have in the past forced intervention.
Failure 2: Police it like it's Baghdad
This past summer, the United States was literally torn apart by racial strife that often resulted in rioting. The root cause of this strife was the pervasive level of systemic poverty that besets so many Americans living in inner cities.
But if poverty was the cause, an out-of-control police force, facile in the use of strongarm tactics, was the spark. Simply, the United States' inner-city police forces often stop just short of the tactics used by police in many developing countries.
Forget for a moment that African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be killed by a policeman than an American of European lineage. The reality is that American cities are being subjected to a form of policing that cannot be found in any other developed country in the world.
Supporting police brutality
And, here's the kicker. President Trump, with broad support from his Republican party, comes down squarely on the side of police brutality.
More importantly, Trump has managed to cadge together an extra-legal police force from units connected to the Department of Homeland Security, which for various reasons seems doggedly loyal to the President.
Under his "law and order" mantra, the most lawless of U.S. Presidents mimics the actions of tinpot dictators cracking down on civil unrest in places like Azerbaijan or Cambodia.
Failure 3: A failing U.S. healthcare system
And then there's the Trump Administration's handling of COVID 19. Suffice to say that President Trump presides over a nation reeling from the physical, emotional and economic trauma of a raging pandemic by virtue of promoting snake oil — in this case hydroxychloroquine.
But aside from the President's mindless antics, the coronavirus has unmasked a new reality for all Americans to see. The so-called "greatest health care system in the world" is proving to be every bit as inefficient and ineffective as health care systems in the world's poorest countries.
Despite all the vast amounts of money spent, the U.S. health care system leaves millions of Americans unserved or underserved.
One need only look at the substantially higher COVID 19 death rates among people of color in the United States' largest cities. It constitutes a callous disregard for human life that aligns more closely with Kinshasa than with Berlin, Paris or even Beijing.
President Trump has not only failed utterly to take the steps necessary to repair the system, which he had so stridently promised in the last Presidential election, he has use the office of the President to chip away at key elements of the existing system.
Gutting the Affordable Care Act
Amazingly, he is in the courts trying to eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions, a popular facet of the Affordable Care Act that he promised to protect.
Again and again, while doing nothing to improve the plight of the United States' disenfranchised, the President callously focused on tearing the system further apart.
Meanwhile, as in so many developing nations, wealthy Americans are completely unfazed. They have access to some of the world's best research hospitals.
Failure 4: The extraction economy
The United States' National Weather Service is currently predicting the possibility of approximately 20 named storms coming ashore in the United States this hurricane season.
Such a violent hurricane season does not come as a surprise to anyone who closely follows the impact of global warming on the U.S. ecosystem.
Devastation from climate events, whether brush fires in California, heat waves in the Southwest, inundations in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and tornadoes sweeping through the Southeast, has become a staple of U.S. news reports.
Death and physical deprivation have become commonplace — with victims of climate change largely left to fend for themselves.
So far, 2020 is on track to become the hottest year on record in the United States, with dozens of U.S. cities setting all-time records for high temperatures. But then, nine of the 10 hottest years on record globally have occurred in the past ten years.
Denying the undeniable
There is no longer much ambiguity in these weather patterns. Nor is there any ambiguity in the statistics that measure them. They dovetail precisely with the direst of climate predictions.
And yet, the current President of the United States, with the full backing of the Republican Party, denies climate change and presses forward in promoting the unrestricted extraction and use of fossil fuels.
Within the Trump Administration, environmental problems are not confined to climate change. Since taking office, the Administration has orchestrated a systematic gutting of environmental regulation overall.
Favoring extraction industries every step of the way, Trump — again with the full backing of the Republican Party — has placed the country's water systems, wetlands and wilderness areas at extreme risk.
It puts in place an environmental infrastructure common to developing rather than developed nations.
This pattern of denial and deceit puts the United States on track to increase rather than reduce its dependence upon natural resource development, making the United States a target for all the corruption that extraction industries bring with them.
The United States aside, environmental degradation at the hands of extraction industries is a characteristic common in many developing nations, which base their ongoing development on the exploitation of their natural resources.
Failure 5: Crumble in the infrastructure jumble
Extraction is one side of the coin. The other side is the state of the United States' infrastructure.
As is the case in so many developing nations, U.S. infrastructure has been widely neglected, despite President Trump's extravagant campaign promises in the last election.
The lack of adequate infrastructure became most evident with recent storms — Hurricane Isaias in the northeast and the derechos in the Midwest — when above-ground power grids were devastated along with crops.
Few if any developed nations maintain above-ground power grids as the United States still does.
And the decrepit state of the U.S. electrical grid does not even address the jumble of problems with crumbling roads, bridges, rail lines and waterways.
Maintaining a sound infrastructure is a collective national endeavor. It is therefore especially telling — and tragic — that any sense of nationhood has been totally abandoned by President Trump and his Republican cohort in the U.S. Congress in favor of prosperity for the privileged few.
Instead of pouring precious federal resources into national restoration, money in the form of tax cuts is channeled to a new made-by-Trump kleptocracy overseen by legions of lobbyists.
Corruption in Washington
Corruption in Washington, D.C. is akin to the kinds of corruption one finds in places like Lagos or Kabul — albeit on a more sophisticated level.
Instead of foreign entities bribing local officials as happens in developing nations, U.S. companies bribe U.S. officials in the U.S. federal capital city, as well as state capitals.
In the meantime, the United States' crumbling infrastructure looks more and more like what one would find in other developing countries.
The transformation is underway
The five epic failures of the contemporary United States under the Trump regime are:
1. Out-of-control U.S. fiscal and monetary policies
2. The rise of the police state
3. An inadequate and ineffective health care system
4. A rapidly degrading environment and
5. A deteriorating infrastructure.
These failures are also among the classic characteristics of a developing nation. It cannot satisfy any American, regardless of partisan stripe, that they constitute five epic failures for the Trump Administration.
Failure 6? Shredding democracy
These five epic failures are bad enough. But they would exclude one more characteristic of developing countries that actually represents the Trump Administration's biggest failure — or rather deliberate act of brazenness: It is Donald Trump's assault on democracy itself.
The fact is that the President seeks to put in place a form of government that is no longer anchored in the basic principles of democracy. It has become detached from the tenets that shape duly elected governments in other developed nations.
Like despots in so many developing countries, Trump governs more and more by decree in the form of executive orders. In so doing, he bypasses almost entirely the people's elected representatives in the Congress, which itself has grown increasingly dysfunctional.
Attacking the election
And as the next presidential election approaches, Trump busies himself casting doubt on its legitimacy and throws up impediments within the U.S. Postal Service that are aimed at suppressing the vote, a tactic common in the most corrupt developing nations.
In fact, the polarization that one currently sees in U.S. politics and society, which is stoked to a fever pitch each and every day by a President determined to hold onto power at any cost, inches the United States toward a potentially cataclysmic level of civil strife, the contours of which already became evident this past summer.
And yet, a large cross-section of the U.S. electorate seems content to tag along for this ride in reverse toward a Great Leader — the very notion the founding father of the United States wanted to avoid.
Most astonishingly, like pre-pubescent children sitting in the back seat of the car during a long ride, they happily ask one question over and over: "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"
This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together. Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And sign up for our highlights email here.