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Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, American Decline

Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, American Decline 

Did Donald Trump just make his first genuine mistake in the race for reelection in 2020? As I wrote during the 2016 campaign, The Donald had one striking distinction. He was the only candidate (or essentially American politician) of that moment who didn’t feel obliged to claim that the U.S. was not just great but the greatest of all powers, ever. In a single speech, his opponent Hillary Clinton managed to call the U.S. “the greatest country on Earth,” “an exceptional nation,” and “the indispensable nation” that possessed “the greatest military” ever and she was hardly atypical when it came to American politics then. Trump’s claim was that he would make the country great again; in other words, he was our first declinist candidate for president, the only one who claimed that the country wasn’t then beyond compare. And that message — including, for instance, his claims that a “depleted” U.S. military, driven beyond its limits by its twenty-first-century forever wars, was a “disaster” and its “generals… reduced to rubble” — rang a distinct bell in the heartland. It arguably won him the election by convincing enough white working-class voters, who already sensed their world in decline, that he was their man.

That was then, this is… well, consider the slogan the president recently tried out at the Florida rally he used to launch his reelection campaign: not “Make America Great Again,” but “Keep America Great,” or KAG. In other words, he tossed the “again” out the window and with it his declinist claim about the country. The implication, of course, was that, under his supervision, America had indeed become “great again.” As he told NBC’s Chuck Todd in a recent interview, “My economy is phenomenal. We have now the best economy, maybe in the history of our country… [W]hen I took over, this country, the economy was ready to collapse.”

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