What a year 2020 has been! A pandemic, a fractious presidential election, and race riots have all created unprecedented interest and public discussion about life in America.
- The pandemic. Since early March we have experienced rolling waves of new infections of the coronavirus The third and largest wave peak so far now appears to be subsiding (see chart). Our national coping strategy is decentralized: governors are in charge of making mask mandate and lockdown decisions in their states. The overall economy is recovering rapidly with the unemployment rate already down to 6.9% for September. Vaccines will soon be available, letting us return to normal life.
- The presidential election. President Trump narrowly lost his bid for a second term in an apparently scandal-free election with a huge turnout of 67% of all registered voters. This is democracy in action! At the same time, Republicans more than held their own in down-ballot races. In other words, voters used discrimination in making their ballot choices.
- Race riots. The death of George Floyd, while being arrested by the Minneapolis police, led to summer-long rioting in many cities across the country. But is there really systemic racism in the U.S.? Blacks lag behind in terms of economic advancement and other measures of social success, but a big problem is their mindset of victimization. Still, the government might be able to help by focusing attention on the need for better educational outcomes.
- Foreign policy. We’re in good shape domestically (as described above) but how about relations with the rest of the world? Our unipolar world status since the end of the cold war is now being challenged by China. But China has much bigger problems than we do. We should treat China as a strong competitor (economic and geopolitical) rather than as an existential threat to freedom and democracy (more later).
- Political polarization is, of course, detrimental to our political discourse. But our elected representatives are reflecting the views of the polarized constituents who support them. Here is a little bit of hope on this score. The liberal NYT columnist, Maureen Dowd, lets her pro-Trump brother write her column every year on Thanksgiving weekend. I give her much credit for doing this!
Conclusion. I am upbeat about the future of the “American project.” Prosperous democracies like the U.S. can always get better. The biggest issue we’re facing right now (besides our debt problem, of course, more later!!!) is a fundamental shift, instigated by Donald Trump, towards populism and nationalism. So far, we are making this needed shift in a relatively smooth manner, considering the magnitude of the issues involved.