The numbers behind America’s angst point to one important fraction

Opinion by Harlan Ullman, The Hill, 7/31/23


Numbers can help determine a person’s health. Blood pressure, temperature, blood chemistry and other metrics are among them. Interestingly, one number — a fraction — is a relevant measure of the political, social, economic and cultural health of the nation. That fraction is three-fourths.

Sixty years ago, about three-fourths of Americans trusted and had confidence in the U.S. government and most of its institutions. Today, more than three-fourths of Americans do not have that trust or confidence. Nearly three-fourths of Americans do not want to see Joe Biden and Donald Trump vying for the presidency. More than three-fourths of Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction.

Polls can be notoriously wrong. However, using a more qualitative evaluation, consider how this three-fourths measure has affected integrity, loyalty and well-being. Only the most ardent of supporters would think that Trump has any measure of integrity. His inability to recognize truth and facts do not help him; his past business practices and the pending legal charges against him make that case.

Biden has been tainted and damaged by the actions of his son Hunter. Whether any of these accusations and allegations of wrongdoing will be dismissed or proven, in today’s politics, the integrities of both a past and current president are being challenged. It is difficult to maintain a functioning government under these conditions.

On several levels, loyalty likewise may not always be a virtue. Members of the three branches of government take an oath “to support and defend” the Constitution, not a political party or an individual. While Democrats and Republicans in Congress will resent accusations of having divided loyalties, too often the party wins out.

Why then do a relatively tiny number of Republicans, including most presidential contenders, refuse to criticize Trump? Why are too many votes in Congress cast along party lines, especially in the House? And the president has a profound quandary in his love for his son possibly determining his loyalty, although his press secretary has said that Biden would not consider a pardon if Hunter is found guilty of any crime.

As with integrity and loyalty, the well-being of Americans has a negative side. While COVID may have temporarily reduced life expectancy, the U.S. government is becoming a gerontocracy. And well-being has caused many to choose not to work.

Biden and Trump are a combined 157 years old. According to my count, Sixty-six senators are baby boomers ages 59 to 77. In the Senate, the average age is 65 and it hovers around 58 in the House.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) is 90.  Given her health, would she be better off out of the Senate? Yet, she sits on the important Senate Judiciary Committee where Democrats have a majority. If she stands down, arcane Senate Rules prevent Democrats from appointing a replacement. That would deadlock the committee. Hence, Feinstein stays.

Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 81. Like Feinstein, he spent several months out of the Senate recovering from a fall, of which he has had several. Last week, he froze at a press conference questioning his ability to function in the Senate.

A further example of the negative side of well-being is the shortage of American workers driven by those who do not see the need to rejoin the workforce. Irrespective of sector this is becoming a crisis. Police, teaching, high-tech, shipbuilding, manufacturing and health care all face a lack of trained and skilled workers. Even the military is failing to meet its recruiting needs by a substantial amount.

So, the questions are can or how can the United States reverse these highly negative consequences and downsides endangering integrity, loyalty and well-being? None can be fixed overnight. And the three-fourths must be reversed if there are to be improvements.

This is parallel to climate change and weather. Weather is transitory. Climate change and global warming are not. The first step is that Americans must realize the crises that lie ahead. They will become absolutely clear as the election approaches and will be dominated by legal actions against Trump and possibly against the younger Biden.

Interestingly, what may emerge as the stabilizing factor is the economy. As Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has observed, the economy has been remarkably resilient. This raises another fraction — one-fourth. In the early 1990s when Japan was the emerging economic monolith, the U.S. accounted for about one-fourth of global GDP.

Today, the U.S. economy still accounts for about one-fourth of global GDP. Ironically, only a strong economy may be able to limit the downsides of integrity, loyalty and well-being.

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