George Will looks at America and sees a nation in decline. That’s not a very controversial view. In polls, most Americans say we’re on the wrong track. If asked, I would say we’re declining.
But Will fails to make the case that we are. He also fails to make what I take to be his core case — that President Trump bears substantial responsibility for our “downward spiral.”
Here is Will’s summation of his case that we’re spiraling downward:
This nation built the Empire State Building, groundbreaking to official opening, in 410 days during the Depression, and the Pentagon in 16 months during wartime. Today’s less serious nation is unable to competently combat a pandemic, or even reliably conduct elections. This is what national decline looks like.
The Empire State Building was built only about a decade after an influenza pandemic killed between 500,000 and 850,000 Americans out of a population of around 103 million. It was built by a nation that failed competently to combat economic failure for a decade or more.
As for the current pandemic, Will wildly exaggerates our shortcomings in combating it. The U.S. has suffered 426 deaths from the coronavirus per 1 million people. Of the five major European nations — Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy — only Germany has done better. France at 462 is next, followed by Italy at 579. (All numbers here are from Worldometer.)
The way things are going, it’s likely that per capita deaths in the U.S. will surpass those in France. They might eventually catch up with the other nations mentioned above. But for now, Will’s claim that our response to the virus is worthy of pity from the rest of the world doesn’t withstand scrutiny. We’re doing better than most of the countries with reliable data that it’s fair to compare us with.
As for our inability to conduct elections reliably, this is nothing new. Election fraud and, indeed, stolen elections are hardy perennials of American politics. It’s arguable that Democrats stole the presidential election of 1960. Was America in decline then?
Will’s specific attacks on Trump also fall flat. According to Will, our government “is now administered by a gangster regime.” Will’s evidence? Roger Stone and Paul Manafort.
Stone is a sleazy character and a convicted criminal. He belongs in jail. But he is not a gangster. Nor was he, or Manafort, ever part of the Trump administration.
If we have a gangster government, Will should be able to point to serious crimes committed by members of the administration in their official capacities. Will points to none. Normally, a master of turning a phrase, he is reduced in this column to name calling and hyperbole.
Will calls Trump “the most frivolous person ever to hold any great nation’s highest office.” This too is hyperbole.
There are aspects of Trump that can fairly be characterized as frivolous. However, the president’s agenda is anything but.
One can disagree with the policies that form the core of Trump’s presidency and/or about the way Trump is pursuing them. But far from being frivolous, they are largely the ones you would expect a conservative president to pursue — lowering taxes, easing regulations, getting tough with China on trade, restoring close relations with Israel, squeezing Iran financially, nominating judges who aren’t liberal activists, trying to curb illegal immigration, building up the military, and supporting law enforcement in the face of rioting.
If these policies are frivolous, so is contemporary American conservatism. If that’s Will’s view, he should say so.
I understand that Will dislikes Donald Trump. I don’t like Trump either. But one would have to detest Trump to consider writing an attack piece as superficial as the one Will has produced. And even in that case, one should have the self-discipline not to write it.
NOTE: This post has been modified to correctly state per capita deaths in certain European nations.
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