Don’t cry for the United States just yet
Mr. Donald Trump assures us that, under his presidency, the United States will again be an extraordinary country.
As soon as he triumphs at the polls, he asserts, he will retrieve the jobs that, according to him, have been moved to Asia or Mexico. Illegal immigrants and terrorists won’t be able to scale the walls erected on U.S. borders. His country’s armed forces will again be unbeatable. He will pulverize Islamic foes. U.S. allies will have to pay the federal government for the presence of American troops that prevent foreign invasions. He will bring all his weight as an expert negotiator to abrogate or modify the free-trade treaties that do not favor the United States. Consequently, the rest of the planet will begin again to respect and admire his country.
It is an effective electoral message, but it is also false, with certain elements of paranoia that could turn out counterproductive. Stephen D. Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam (Scientific American Mind) warn that there is not greater spur to the recruitment of terrorists than to threaten them with extermination. Nevertheless, Trump’s discourse connects with that substantial part of the census that holds a pessimistic view of the United States’ social and economic reality. But as it happens, it’s a mistaken perception.
The truth is that the United States, despite the problems that it presents and the numerous social pathologies that it exhibits (inevitable in a diverse and democratic nation of 323 million people from all cultures, ethnic groups and origins), is the first and indisputable world power. No other nation on the planet can challenge its hegemony at this time.
In 2016, its GNP is very close to 19 trillion dollars, the world’s highest. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the country produces 20 percent of the goods and services generated on Earth; its productivity is five times greater than China’s.
Eighty-six percent of all international transactions are made in dollars. The dollar is the most important hard currency in circulation and the shelter currency in turbulent times, such as today. The unemployment index, about 4.7 percent, is one of the lowest of the developed world and, while it’s true that industrial jobs have been destroyed, they have been replaced by more placid and creative forms of earning a living in the service sector and the so-called information economy.
Seventeen of the world’s 20 best universities are American. U.S society patents the most scientific and technical findings by far. English is humanity’s lingua franca. The rest of the nations basically imitate the United States. They dress like the Americans. They cure their diseases like them. They compose music like them. They dance like them. They see their movies, read their books, build their highways, hospitals and airports, almost everything like them.
The U.S. armed forces have a budget that exceeds 600,000 million dollars, more than the budget of all its potential enemies combined: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. Its potential destructive capacity is astounding. That war machine is not only militarily feared by the rest of the nations but also probably contributes to the admiration created by the country.
According to The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index, which seriously polls the level of affection generated internationally by the world’s 50 most important nations, the United States is at the top of the list. Germany headed that list in 2014, for the first time, but in 2015 the United States regained the primacy.
Add to this picture the institutional solidity of the United States. Some days ago, the Declaration of Independence celebrated its 240th anniversary. The country has had extraordinary presidents and inept caretakers; brilliant and mediocre periods; recessions and cycles of growth; slaves, free men and freedmen; venal and honest legislators; excellent judges and fools; periods of war and peace; subjugated women and women who have bravely conquered their social space; silent and combative minorities.
But all these transformations and confrontations, some of them truly revolutionary, have occurred without interrupting the orderly transfer of authority, within an imperfect though functional legality that confers an enormous solidity upon the country.
For how long? No one knows. We feel a melancholy certainty that all hegemonic nations will someday lose that hegemony. That has always been the case, but there are no symptoms yet that the United States entered a phase of decadence, even if Mr.Trump insists on stating the opposite and even if many of his like-minded supporters — almost all white, almost all male, almost all ultranationalists and isolationists — agree with his pessimistic perception of reality. They are simply wrong.