An Image of Terminal Decline

As the United States prepares to celebrate Independence Day, the picture it presents to the world at large is not a good one. For that matter, the rest of the world isn’t looking so hot, either. The turn to the right, here and globally, seems inexorable.

The recent presidential “debate” is a stark example of how far this country has fallen. We’re offered two elderly white male candidates, one a convicted felon and congenital liar, the other an 81-year-old who could not complete his thoughts or sentences.

The catastrophic debate. Photo: Kenny Holston/The New York Times.
The catastrophic debate. Photo: Kenny Holston/The New York Times.

“I am worried about the image projected to the outside world,” Sergey Radchenko, a historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “It is not an image of leadership. It is an image of terminal decline.”

France, Germany and the Netherlands, along with Italy, have also swung to the right, and thus have begun the process of dismantling societal safeguards that right-wing governments generally undertake. (The UK, thankfully, appears to be proceeding in the opposite direction.)

It’s well-known that the U.S. has been declining in terms of its citizens’ well-being relative to other nations. U.S. News & World Report, famous for its controversial college rankings, puts the United States at #23 in the world overall. The OECD* Better Life Index has us at #10 overall, but #33 (of 35) for social inequality, #28 (of 41) for voter turnout and #29 of 41 for life expectancy. Factor in our increasingly lax laws on the country’s 300 million+ guns and the Supreme Court’s determination that President Trump has absolute immunity for “official acts,” and our national situation is even worse than it looks.

As of this writing, President Biden is reportedly considering whether he should continue trying to persuade his party and the general public that he is an effective candidate, one who could handle the presidency for the next four years. The Times reports that if he concludes he cannot recover from his debate debacle, he could drop out of the race as soon as next week. That would raise new risks as a group of alternative candidates would grapple for the nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Nonetheless, it is probably the best course of action.

Even so, Trump seems likely to win in November. If he does, America’s outlook will be bleaker still.

* Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.