A debate on where America was before Trump. Were we really in decline?

The threads on Trump and a potential coup / martial law have me thinking about some of the posts, especially about the state of America in the future and where we were before Trump. Here’s how I see things. These observations are what I would like to debate. Where am I wrong, and if so why?

Let’s start with the recovery from the Great Depression and WWII. Yes, things were bad back then. Poverty, a world war, part of the US getting bombed, fascism spreading in the world, etc. FDR and the US, however, were up to the challenge. We came out of the depression. We won the world war and our defeated foes eventually became great allies and improved the lives of their own citizens.

Things continued with Eisenhower in the 50s. The interstate highway system was built. The economy continued to expand. Race relations weren’t great, but they improved. We had Brown vs Board of Education, which was enforced by the federal government. Things overall seemed to still be getting better.

Then we get to the 60s. LBJ gets Medicare started. We have the Voting Rights Act. Sure we have Vietnam, racial unrest, assassinations of public figures from JFK to RFK to MLK. But through it all we continue to make progress as a nation.

We get to the 70s, and Nixon continues the trend. Despite Watergate and his resignation, he opens up China to the west. The EPA is founded and things like smog in the great cities begins to disappear. We have some issues with the economy in the late 70s, the Iranian Revolution, gas crisis, etc. But we still manage to overcome them even though Carter (despite probably being the most decent person to hold the job) wasn’t that great a POTUS and Reagan having dementia. Gas prices stabilize in the 80s, the economy continues to improve, and race relations continue to improve.

We then get to the Bush Sr. and Clinton years. The USSR falls, Germany reunites, the internet begins to become a thing for regular people, the economy continues to improve, and people’s lives are still getting better.

Then we have 9/11 and the Bush Jr. years. Yes, we get into a couple of wars, one of which was unjust. Despite all that, things continue to improve, minorities are still doing better than they had previously, the internet continues to expand and more information is available that makes our lives easier.

Again, we have a setback with the Great Recession of 2008/2009. Obama, however, proves to be up to the challenge and the country recovers. Obamacare, despite the attacks from the right, actually does improve access to healthcare. The War on Terror continues to make gradual progress, and we avoid any major terror attacks. Yes, we have incidents like the death of Trayvon Martin highlighting that racial injustice still exits, but overall minorities still continue to have it better than they did in the past. We also get the legalization of marriage for gay people. Marijuana decriminalization is making progress, etc.

By 2016 things were looking pretty good. Islamic terrorism was a shadow of what it was in the Osama bin Laden days. We were recovering quite well from the Great Recession. LGBT people had never had things better. Race relations were still improving even if it was in a two steps forward one step back type manner. China was becoming stronger, but looked to be on the way towards being a rival rather than enemy like the Nazis or Soviet Russia.

Then Trump somehow won the 2016 election and things began to turn to shit. If only Clinton had won things would still be getting better, and we would be even better off now than we were in 2016. In particular the SCOTUS would be down to Thomas, Alito, and Roberts as the conservatives, and the federal judiciary would be going on 12 years of having judges appointed by Democratic POTUSs.

Where have I gone wrong in this analysis? Am I wrong to blame all our misfortunes as a nation on Trump?

Somewhat, imo. We’ve been in a long slow decline in a couple of key areas for decades.

Health care costs have continued to skyrocket as a percentage of GDP and life expectancies have actually declined, which might be a first for a First World nation.

Wealth inequality is bad and getting worse, mostly as a result of the persistent belief in low taxes and trickle down and denial of a strong economic safety net (partly attributable to the universal lack of access to health care above).

Our creaky old democracy is now rated as “Flawed” in the global rankings and there is a poison pill buried in our constitution that will make the worst parts of it virtually impossible to modernize.

Finally, as a nation we’re generally in denial of all these things, partly because they’re happening so gradually. It’s a slow rot that’s hard to see and we’re not the most nuanced of peoples.

This really belongs in GD and I will move it.

But first I want to comment on it. I think the downslide started with Reagan. And not because of his dementia, but his sincerely held belief that the government was the enemy. Or at the very least, part of the problem, not of the solution. Anyone who believes that needs to take a long hard look at the Scandinavian countries. For example, compare Finland’s educational system to America’s. Compare Denmark’s social welfare system to see how effective good government can be. Reagan started his reign by destroying the airline controller’s union and that seemed to lead to the general decline of unions which jump-started income inequality. Then came Newt Gingrich to turn politics into a take-no-prisoners game that led directly to the current partisan divide. You can go back to Nixon for the Republican appeal to racist sentiment. All these things are part of the decline of America. It seems clear to me that just as we look back on the XXth as the American century, we will look back on the XXIst as the Chinese. There might have been a chance for the EU, but Brexit has probably foreclosed on that.

You may be right about this, but on the other hand, the seventies felt pretty grim and decliney at the time, before Reagan came along and proclaimed “morning in America.” So while you may well be right that Reagan actually contributed to America’s decline, that’s not what it felt like to many Americans at the time. The people who elected Trump in hopes of “making America great again” were much more likely to be thinking of the Reagan years than of the Carter or Ford years as an example of the “great” that they wanted to go back to.

Not so much, though I realize this is and was the perception. But China was almost more like an enemy, especially from their own perspective, than a friend or even just merely a rival.

Well yeah, you are wrong to blame all our misfortunes on Trump. It’s never just one thing, and trying to blame decades of issues and problems in the US on one guy or even one party is ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of people on the other side blaming everything on Obama, or Clinton, or on the Democrats, or liberals or left wingers. I realize this is what people do, and it makes them feel good and superior to blame all our issues on the other side, but the issues that plague the US are complex and often have their roots in things done decades ago, changed by the other side, changes again, and the problems just kept piling on.

Yeah, as others have frequently said, Donald is just a symptom of a deeper decline in a country losing ground with each passing year to more advanced nations and unwilling to acknowledge it because of the continuing irrational belief in “exceptionalism.”

I do in fact blame Reagan for much of the country’s decline. He refused to face up to realities and take a modern approach to addressing the nation’s modern problems. Those good ol’ days ain’t comin’ back. I console myself a little bit by knowing that only voters over 50 years old have a personal recollection of the “great” Reagan years.

The fact that it was possible for Trump to be elected is evidence of deep-seated problems in the nation. Yeah, you can say that the people who voted for him were idiots… but having that many idiots in a country is a huge problem.

Which is?

America isnt in decline. But certainly there are cyclical ups and downs.

There are a few worrisome trends- the rich are getting richer. For this i blame the abject stupidity of trickle down economics, which never worked.

The poison pill is the requirement for a constitutional amendment, which only requires states representing about 10% of the nation’s population to block, to change our electoral system into one that better represents the country’s voters. The composition of the Senate and the Electoral College are vestiges of a time long past and there is almost nothing we can do legally about either one.

Decline? Relative to other parts of the world, yes. Much of it self inflicted with feel good policies that are destructive in a competitive global economy. The inefficiencies of our feel good policies could be ignored or dishonestly dismissed when we were still benefiting from our post WWII position. Now we have real competition and the weaknesses are exposed.

Legally? Sure there is, would require internal migration to change the demographics of a few key states. Now that might not be pragmatic but it is doable.

“Feel-good policies” is meaningless. What do you mean in specific?

Also, a big reason we’re in decline is the lack of universal healthcare and cheap education.

Our national debt had increased a great deal, we’d been involved in two costly wars in the Middle East (although Afghanistan was arguably necessary,) etc. So yes we were on the decline.

Enacting policy that drives jobs overseas while encouraging illegal immigration is not a recipe for long term strategic strength when said strength derives from the ability to manufacture critical goods. It’s great that we have people making $15/hr to put a pickle on a bun but we live in a world where nations compete and if we can’t manufacture what we need when we need it and others can then that is relative decline since we once were 50% of the world’s economy.

Manufacturing production has increased with time. Cite Manufacturing employment has decreased, but that is to be expected given increased automation driven by higher wages here. Some major manufacturers of electronics don’t automate South Asian factories because wages are so low it is cheaper to manufacture manually.
It would be nice to manufacture at least some of what we need, but that would require government subsidies which I doubt you’d favor. Otherwise, it is economically advantageous to manufacture where it can be done most efficiently. We personally no longer grow what we need, since it is a lot cheaper to buy it at the store. Basically it’s the same thing. We’re screwed if there is a long term disaster.
Illegal immigrants mostly pay for themselves. The attack on immigration in general, which includes legal ones, is going to hurt us a lot. I worked on an advanced microprocessor design team - easily 80% of the staff wasn’t born here.
The increasing hatred and distrust of science is the biggest threat to us by far. Look how many people it has killed in the past year. And Covid would look trivial compared to the effects of climate change you’re going to see in 50 years. Not me, I’ll be dead.

From a non-American point of view, the USA raised in the beginning of the 20th century as a major power, especially thanks to industrialization.
At the end of WWI, they were recognized as such economically, but not military (few grounds troops) or politically (not part of SDN).
Came 1929… USA was perhaps the more critically hit (with Germany), France being largely rural and Britain having an empire to rely on. FDR did a great job, but it’s really WWII that permitted the rise to world power: first with “cash&carry” and “lendlease” the American industries became the world’s factory for military stuff. Second, as Germany and Japan were threatening, the USA went from 5 divisions to almost 300…and same for aviation…so military power. Third, after 1942, the USA became the leading part of the Allies (taking the place of Britain) and by 1945 were considered the political leader of everyone that wasn’t Stalinist.

After WWII, a decline occurred: space race was USSR gaining each first time (except for man on Moon), unrest in South America, Asia and Africa lead to dirty wars with no winner or even military or political defeat, Japan and Korea took the lead in microelectronics, Europe formed a confederation gradually but steadily (except brexit…)
On the bright side, musics and movies were overwhelmingly American, so cultural domination.
The fall of USSR permitted the existence of USA as the one and only military superpower. But that’s just a transitional state: the world became a complicated place with many new players and USA simply rested on their historical stance.
What were the causes? well for my part:

  1. no public healthcare and absurdly costly private health. So impoverishment and fall of general well being.
  2. colossal cost of private schools and university classes, that generate a sort of caste system, which determinate your profession and income. So no or very few social elevator.
  3. a political system that is unfair and outdated. So political braking on anything resembling a too radical modification.
  4. deep racial and violence related problems, that are not correctly addressed and are taken as inevitable.
  5. maybe linked to the two above, a very strong polarization, with each party the others as “irreconcilable enemy and anti-American traitors” and not “had others ideas but overall seeks the better for USA”. That last part is sadly the main obstacle to any changes and can only be override with years of efforts.

The following were the highest they had ever been* ~four years ago:

  • Real median household income
  • Insured rate among non-elderly
  • Percentage of >25 population with any level of education attainment

*As far back as I’ve seen

The following were increasing, but not the highest they had ever been:

  • “Core age” (25-54) labor force participation
  • 1 - (U3 unemployment rate)
  • 1 - (U6 unemployment rate)

The following were declining:

  • Life expectancy at birth (already mentioned)
  • Equality (1 - Gini Coefficient)

No real direction:

  • Poverty rate

And where are these various indices now, by comparison? Or maybe you want to go back to the end of 2019 to avoid the Covid effect.

Off the top of my head, all the lines kept moving roughly similarly until 2020.

Actually I’m not sure about healthcare coverage. I think that flattened out and got slightly worse.