The American Dream is over. The world woke up to that fact yesterday, and maybe that’s no bad thing.
I had been feeling miserable every time someone made a Trump joke. Mention of orange hair, or even just his name, was enough to send us all into paroxysms of nervous laughter.
We have been using Trump to define ourselves as the educated elite. Our sort doesn’t vote for Trump. Our sort is intelligent. Our sort has education. Our sort is cosmopolitan.
Their sort is the great unwashed. And the most important thing is to keep them away from power. Don’t, for God’s sake, consider ways in which they might get themselves a bathroom.
It just wasn’t good enough. What’s happened is a legacy of the educated elite more than a legacy of the Bible Belt. It is a legacy of the Democrats as much as of the Republicans.
Sorry as I am to say this, because I love the man, but it is a legacy of Barack Obama as much as of the Bushes and Ronald Reagan.
Most of all, it is Bill Clinton’s legacy. He had two terms, between 1993 and 2001, and he blew them. He promoted Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s deregulation, which took the pin out of the ticking time bomb of global banking.
His welfare ‘reform’ included the scarily entitled ‘Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act’, which forced lone parents away from their babies and out to work.
The US Chamber of Commerce described it as a “reassertion of America’s work ethic.” Since then, one third of US children — and over half of black children — who live in one-parent households have got, comparatively, poorer. The US has the worst child-poverty rate in the OECD.
You need two incomes not just to thrive, but to survive. And because that’s so often not possible, Democratic senator, Elizabeth Warren, has shown that just having children is the single-biggest risk factor for going bankrupt today in the US.
Warren lobbied Hillary Clinton to persuade her husband against tightening bankruptcy laws in the 1990s, and succeeded. When Hillary became a senator, however, she voted through a similar law to Bill Clinton’s. Warren accused her of changing her vote, after being lobbied by cash-rich credit-card companies. Hillary argued back that she had inserted protections for alimony and child support into the bill.
Parenting alone is harder than ever in the US today, and the fear that every family is just one bad argument, or one heart attack, away from financial ruin informs the psychology of ordinary Americans. You can see it in their eyes.
Hillary Clinton is such a devout believer in what she calls “the basic bargain at the heart of the American Dream” that she doesn’t see it is in tatters. In the publicity last year for her autobiography, Hard Choices, she described America as “the indispensable nation”.
The indispensable nation? Why, no, honey, America is no less dispensable than any other country. Americans are no different from people anywhere, and America is better than other countries in some ways and worse in others.
In this newspaper, in May, Mark Landler described Clinton as a firm believer in “American exceptionalism”. He also described her as a “true hawk”, when it came to American military supremacy, or what she calls “smart power.” She clearly believes in the divine right of the US to move the countries of the world around like pieces in a chess game it has to win.
In a vile chapter of her autobiography, she described the “getting” of Osama Bin Laden as a revenge killing for 9/11. She called the hunting down and shooting in cold blood — capital punishment with no recourse to trial — as “justice”. In a scarcely credible addendum to her book, she describes the protection of the women and children in Bin Laden’s compound as “a humane gesture by our military which spoke volumes about America’s values.”
Well, yes, it did. Values in which American lives are worth more than other lives and only Americans can even hope for due process. Osama Bin Laden’s son has vowed to avenge his father’s death and he may succeed. The Obama/Clinton administrations have not made the world safer, they have made the world less safe, particularly for Americans.
Donald Trump was handed the presidency, due to the failure of the Obama administration to reverse the policies of inequality and military intervention which reach back four decades and by the failure to come up with a new bargain at the heart of the American Dream.
Trump doesn’t believe in anything. But his followers believe that he can revive the American Dream and make America both “great” and “safe”. He will not be able to do either, but he will probably do his best to blow the planet’s future as he tries.
The scariest thing about a Donald Trump presidency which has control of both Houses is that four years are all he needs to burn the planet. He has called climate change “the global-warming hoax”. He has threatened to end Obama’s ‘Clean Power’ plan. He can get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. He can pull the US out of the painstakingly negotiated Paris Climate Deal, ratified by China and India and 70 other nations and which was among Obama’s big wins. Obama called the Paris deal “the best possible shot to save the one planet we got”.
Runaway climate change hurts the poorest first, but the global warming that may result from Trump’s policy reversals would be tantamount to an attack on the US that would make Isis look like boy scouts.
Some Democrats may think that the sinking of South Florida serves them right for voting as they did. But with even Dublin and Cork in peril of drowning, no-one has the least right to be complacent.
As everywhere, the poor will suffer first and most. But that message has recruited no national movement.
This represents a failure of the educated elite, broadsheet-newspaper readers, like me and you, who have the luxury of thinking of the future, to bring people together to fight our greatest challenge.
The truth is that there was never any hope of fighting climate change, unless it was understood outside the educated elite, and that hasn’t even begun to happen.
This morning, in the wreckage of the American Dream, we must begin to dream again of a world in which no country is more “dispensable” than any other, no country leaves its poor behind, and all live within the limits of the planet’s resources.