Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Where is this headed?


On the eve of our national birthday, our public life is a mess:

Our nation’s immigration policy, for example, is a complete mess.  In our founding document, The Declaration of Independence, our forefathers explicitly listed King George’s efforts to curtail immigration among the reasons that a breach was necessary. But the Dreamers have been abandoned and may soon face mass deportation; some 2,000 asylum-seeking families remain separated, parent from child, with no apparent reunification plan. And even among themselves, congressional Republicans can’t agree on an immigration package that would pass even one house of Congress.

Our nation’s trade policy is likewise a complete mess. President Trump claimed a trade war would be easy to win; there is no sign that is true. The top White House trade adviser predicted that no other nations would dare to retaliate against American tariffs by imposing tariffs of their own; Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union have all imposed such tariffs. Tariffs are driving Harley-Davidson to open plants overseas, and GM warns that the Trump tariffs will ““lead to a smaller GM, a reduced presence at home and abroad for this iconic American company, and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs.”

The president’s solution is to demand still more control over trade, and toys with the withdrawal from the American-built World Trade Organization.

Our Korea policy? A complete mess. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un achieved his high-profile summit with the American president, extracting a pledge from Trump to end military drills and discuss full U.S. withdrawal from South Korea; in return, Trump got nothing. U.S. intelligence agencies now tell us that instead of disarming, Kim has accelerated nuclear enrichment and construction of an intercontinental missile manufacturing facility. “Complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” the supposed goal, is looking more and more like complete verifiable and irreversible re-nuclearization.

Our alliances are a complete mess.  In Asia, Japan, South Korea and other friendly nations are questioning our commitment to that region, our trade policies and frankly the stability of our leadership. In Europe, the most successful and durable military alliance in world history is no longer certain to survive the Trump presidency, with Trump openly questioning its usefulness.

Our health-care policy is a complete mess. After declining to record lows, the uninsured rate has begun a sharp rise, and Trump has publicly bragged about his success in “gutting” Obamacare through regulations and executive orders. Insurance companies are confirming that claim, warning that large rate hikes are coming as a consequence, and Republicans have no idea how to address the issue beyond proposing to slash Medicaid and Medicare. 

Our fiscal situation is a complete mess. During the campaign, Trump said he would eliminate the $19 trillion national debt within eight years; his economics adviser claims that the deficit is going down. Neither statement is at all consistent with reality. The deficit is soaring as a result of massive corporate tax cuts enacted earlier this year, and as the Congressional Budget Office found in its most recent report:

“If current laws generally remained unchanged, CBO projects, growing budget deficits would boost that debt sharply over the next 30 years; it would approach 100 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade and 152 percent by 2048. That amount would be the highest in the nation’s history by far.”

To which President Trump has responded by proposing ... additional tax cuts. “We’re doing a phase two,” he told Fox Business News over the weekend. We’ll be doing it probably in October, maybe a little sooner than that.” In other words, right before the midterms.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have seldom been more angry with each other, seldom more distrustful and disrespectful. Politically, economically, racially and otherwise, we’d rather fight each other along those lines than do the actual hard work needed to compromise and make progress. In 2010, 59 percent of Americans told Gallup they worried just a little or not at all about race relations; eight years later, just 35 percent make that claim.

"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature," Abraham Lincoln predicted in his first inaugural address. 

But these days, I’m not sure we can hear those better angels, touching those mystic chords of memory, above the din of shouts and accusations.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.