It is time for the United States of America to stop pretending it is 1989, and grow up.
The coronavirus pandemic shows our habit of trying to live 30 years in the past is a road to disaster. Yet our political leaders in both parties still live mentally in 1989 and implement policies appropriate for that year.
For example, America maintains a massive military machine composed of obsolete weaponry intended to counter a Soviet threat that vanished almost 30 years ago. Our friends at the Quincy Institute, charge the U.S. spends far more money on weaponry designed to fight the Soviet Union than on pandemic disease prevention.
America Needs to Learn the Soviet Union is History
Yet Communist soldiers or guerrillas have not threatened American interests for over a generation. In contrast, Worldometers estimates Coronavirus had killed 61,195 people as of 4 April 2020.
Sadly, the Trump Administration does not realize the Cold War is over and America won. Predictably, American Conservative writer Daniel DePetreis charges the budget increase ($5.4 billion) the Trump administration proposed for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The amount Trump budgeted for the Institute; the US agency that researches pandemics, was less than one sixth the budget the Institute requested ($38.694 billion).
Meanwhile, Congress passed; and President Trump signed, a $738 billion Defense Budget for 2020. The $738 billion is a $21 billion increase over 2019, at a time when America’s military spending is three times greater than that of our largest rival the People Republic of China.
America’s 1989 Insanity
Maintaining such a huge military machine was a sensible policy in 1989 when the United States faced an enemy dedicated to achieving global military domination – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Today, the quest for military superiority is insanity because the USSR no longer exists.
Today’s Russia lacks the military force to hold onto the Ukraine yet America spends $738 billion on its military. Moreover, America’s greatest global military rival; the People’s Republic of China has just two or three aircraft carriers and one overseas marine base.
Yet Americans are told we need a fleet of several hundred warships and dozens of military bases around the world to protect us from that “threat.” Meanwhile, we are told we need an army of several hundred thousand soldiers and hundreds of warplanes to fight terrorist forces that consist of a few hundred poorly-trained men armed with 40 or 50 year old rifles and homemade bomb
Our 1989 Foreign Policy
Consequently, we are told our foreign policy must consist of alliances, such as NATO, designed to contain the Soviet Union. Friendship and alliance with growing powers that will soon outstrip us economically; China and India, must take second place to maintaining alliances with decaying and declining nations such as France and Great Britain.
Our Congressional leaders tell us that maintaining a close relationship with the Ukrainian government is more important than making a sensible peace with the nuclear-armed Russian Federation. Don’t believe me, Congressional Democrats’ rationale for their silly attempt to impeach President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) was that Trump was not serious enough in his commitment to the Ukraine.
Such is the insanity in modern America. To be hailed as a “statesman” or “stateswoman” a leader must ignore reality and devote all of his or her time and energy to implementing policies appropriate for 1989.
Worse, our leaders make vicious attacks on any politician who questions the insanity. Former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York), for instance, branded U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a National Guard officer and combat veteran, a Russian agent. Gabbard’s crime, in Hillary’s eyes, is that the Congresswoman criticizes the use of military force as an instrument of American diplomacy.
Similarly, the Democratic establishment went to great lengths to block U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) from their party’s presidential nomination. Sanders’ crime in the establishment’s eyes is that he questions American foreign policy and wants to divert resources from the military to meeting the basic needs of the American people.
Sadly, the probable Democratic presidential nominee is Joe Biden (D-Delaware). Biden, who was a presidential candidate in 1988, believes maintaining American domination is one of the president’s key duties.
It is easy to see why nostalgia for 1989 has a strong hold on the American political mind.
The year 1989 was the height of American political and cultural power in the world. In 1989, America had no serious rivals and our greatest enemy; the USSR, was imploding before our eyes.
Remember, 1989 was the year the Russians fled Afghanistan and the Berlin Wall came down. In 1989, China was a backwards third-rate power and an economic basket case.
Moreover, 1989 was the height of Baby Boomer culture and American middle class life. Back in 1989, Bill Cosby was America’s Dad, the patriarch of the friendly and safely middle-class black family that would soon be joining white Americans in pleasant suburbs. Meanwhile, American culture had no rivals, American movies dominated the box office and everybody watched MTV and the Super Bowl.
Today of course MTV is an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question and events have exposed Cosby as a fraud and rapist. Hence, all Baby Boomers have is fear as their world of comfortable illusions collapses around them.
It is no Longer 1989
Back then, our only serious rival was Japan which had no military ambitions. Instead, the Japanese just wanted to sell us cool stuff at good prices.
A few paranoid racists told us that Toyota and Manga were a threat to America but nobody besides unemployed autoworkers took them seriously. 1989 was a comfortable time because the anti-Japanese racists’ fantasies were silly and easily laughed off.
Thus, it is easy to see why so many Americans; especially white Baby Boomers facing a dismal retirement with no money, are nostalgic for 1989. To explain, the Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964.
White Baby Boomers make up a disproportionate percentage of America’s electorate. For instance, Statista estimates there were 72.56 million Baby Boomers in America in 2017, out of a population of 331 million. Hence politicians such as Biden and Trump pander to Baby Boomer fantasies while ignoring reality.
1989 Nostalgia is Sick and Destructive
The nostalgia of Boomers and their “leaders” for 1989 is predictable and sick. Remember, 1989 was the height of Baby Boomer culture (network TV and pop music) and of American white supremacy.
Today, the world is a different place. Everything on Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) platform and Walmart’s shelves is made in China. Hollywood tailors its films to suit Chinese tastes and a foreign film made in Asia; Parasite, just won the coveted best picture Oscar.
Finally, Standard Chartered Bank analysts forecast that America will be the world’s third largest economic power; behind China and, Indian in 2029 – less than ten years from now. Yet not a single politician on the 2020 presidential campaign trail talks about America’s declining status. Not the the nationalist Trump, the socialist Sanders, or the internationalist Biden.
The Politics of 1989 Nostalgia
Instead, Biden dedicates himself to maintaining an alliance system designed to protect us from the Soviet Union and a dead ideology, Communism.
In contrast, Trump talks of America First but makes no effort to identify American interests or fight for them. Finally, Sanders offers a basket of Cold War leftist foreign policy platitudes while focusing on domestic issues.
President Trump’s foreign policy has been one long bout of 1980s nostalgia. For example, Trump makes a big deal out of holding “Summit Conferences” with a Comic Opera dictator, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un whose country is too poor to feed its own people.
The Donald also loves Reaganesque state visits to “allies” such as the UK and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the real Reagan is rolling over in his grave.
Yet, Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping is terrible. Trump is too busy playing Reagan to notice that Washington is burning.
To his credit, Xi went out of his way to visit Trump at estate in Florida early in his presidency. Unfortunately, the Donald ignored the overtures of the leader of the world’s greatest manufacturing power. Frighteningly Trump’s idea of diplomacy is to bend over backwards to please questionable allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia while snubbing those with the money.
Trump’s Racist 1989 Foreign Policy
Sadly, racism poisons Trump’s foreign policy, notably, the Donald goes out of his way to cultivate good relations with “white” powers such as the UK, Russia, and Israel.
Yet, Trump has not made a serious effort to improve our relations with far more powerful an richer non-white powers China and India. Even though China and India could soon be richer and more powerful than America.
Hence Trump’s foreign policy is appropriate to the “white man’s world” of 1989. Not the multiracial world of 2020.
More recently, the Trump administration demonizes China and attacks international institutions while projecting American power against Venezuela. A nation that probably cannot pay or properly mobilize its army.
The idea is to maintain “American dominance” in the Americas. Yet the Trump administration says nothing about a growing Chinese presence in South America.
Sorry America 1989 is Over
Coronavirus has brought the 1989 nostalgia trip to a sudden halt. Colonel Andrew Bacevich correctly notes that the American government fails to meet its citizens basic needs. In particular, Bacevich says the American National Security State failed to identify, prepare for, or defend citizens against a deadly disease Coronavirus.
In addition, a large percentage of America’s population lacks economic security and many middle class families wonder if they can put food on the table. Given that reality, Bacevich rightly charges the national security state designed for a Cold War world has failed.
It is obvious the National Security State’s leaders and their political masters could not even imagine a threat such as Coronavirus even though epidemiologists and Bill Gates have been warning us about the pandemic threat for decades. Yet our military commanders are still obsessed with fighting the War on Terror and projecting military power.
Notably, the Pentagon relieved the commander of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Crozier. The admirals removed Crozier because the Captain dared tell the media that coronavirus was infecting his crew.
Hence, the pretend it is 1989 mindset is still intact in Washington and across the river at the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia. Fortunately, I believe coronavrius is killing that mindset before our eyes.
America is Britain 1938
There is a strong historical parallel to the sick nostalgia dominating contemporary American politics. That parallel is 1930s Britain which was mired in nostalgia for Queen Victoria’s Empire.
Mentally, much of Britain was living in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee; and the high point of British Imperial power, throughout the 1930s. Consequently, the British were mentally unprepared for Hitler and World War II. The idea that the Germans could burn London did not enter their minds until the bombs started falling in 1940.
For instance, the British spent vast amounts of money and resources to maintain their Empire in Asia between the World Wars. For example, building a massive military base in Singapore and maintaining a huge fleet of battleships.
Yet the 1930s Conservative government ignored the nearby threat of Hitler and his friend, Stalin, refused to modernize their air force or their island’s defenses. Instead, Britain’s military resources were wasted on maintaining the Empire.
Instead, the Conservatives tried to make friends with Hitler while neglecting relationships with powerful potential allies, the United States and the Soviet Union. The result of the 1930s British Victorian nostalgia was catastrophe.
By 1940, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill was begging the United States for basic military equipment to defend England. For example, Churchill was asking for destroyers for the Royal Navy and rifles for the army. After the Fall of France, Britain found itself almost defenseless against Germany as the Conservative government learned the 19th Century was over and Queen Victoria was dead.
The New American Politics
One result of the British catastrophe of 1940 was the General Election of 1945 which caused a paradigm shift in British politics. British voters replaced the imperialistic Conservatives and Liberals with the Labour Party.
Labour’s policies were the creation of a welfare state dedicated to to the economic security of ordinary British subjects, and a Britain-first foreign and military policy. For example, Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee created the National Health Service (NHS), maintained a close alliance with the United States, and developed a British atomic bomb. Significantly, Attlee began dismantling the Empire by pulling out of India in 1947.
The long-term results of Britain’s World War II political paradigm shift was that both major political parties embraced social democracy. Labour offered full-strength social democracy, while the Conservatives peddled social-democracy lite. Even supposedly doctrinaire Conservatives; such as Maggie Thatcher, refused to tamper with many aspects of the British welfare state.
My guess is that Coroanvirus will lead to a similar paradigm shift in American politics. Notably, Congress has already budgeted $2 trillion for the coronavirus fight and Trump has put some military operations overseas on hold. The Coronavirus relief efforts will include free medical treatment for the disease and $1,200 relief payments to most Americans.
I suspect more radical steps such as a pullout from NATO, Basic Income, withdrawal from the Middle, and Medicare for All could follow. Such radical changes will follow because of the sorry state America is in. Notably, some American state governors; including Colorado’s Jared Polis, are begging the Chinese for medical supplies. Much as Churchill begged FDR for rifles in 1940.
Coronavirus’s impact on America’s psyche will be as great as the Battle of Britain’s effect on the British mind. In 1940, German bombs destroyed all of Britain’s comfortable illusions and discredited the politicians and intellectuals that peddled those fantasies.
In 2020, Coronavirus will kill all of America’s comforting delusions and discredit the politicians, intellectuals, and journalists that promote the 1989 nostalgia. Thus, I predict the first two political victims of the Coronavirus will be Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden.
America is learning that it is no longer 1989. Our politicians will need to learn to live in the 21st Century if they want reelection.
Originally published at https://marketmadhouse.com on April 4, 2020.