Awash with tears, forgotten homework and calls home, David Saul Smith Union stood aghast as Wolf Blitzer announced the 45th president. Laden with shame and frustration, conversations covered evacuation to Canada, the handling of Donald Trump-supporting Facebook friends and pleas to follow the popular vote—in disregard of the Constitution. Students forsook their country, its citizens and all hope for the future.
Much of Bowdoin, along with the national media, characterized the election as an ultimate threat to American democracy. They overlook the Civil War, world wars, Great Depression, presidents’ assassinations, struggles for civil rights and multitudes of other contested elections. Incredibly, after each difficult, tragic, discouraging affair, we emerged stronger. Seventy-eight days into the new administration, Bowdoin must reflect on if and how our fears were warranted.
To acknowledge the obvious: Trump’s volatile rhetoric and character foster confusion and conflict. His policies challenge the postwar international order, customs and institutions. Millions of Americans, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, feel threatened by his proposals. His actions towards allies and on climate change appear shortsighted. Despite any drawbacks of the administration, the potential of America and the resilience of our people remain unfazed. Our strengths still outweigh our shortcomings and we remain well positioned to tackle the troubles of tomorrow.
The economy, the chief priority of Americans, is gaining momentum. At 4.7 percent, the unemployment rate falls well below our 70-year average of 5.81 percent. Consumer confidence rides a 15-year high, manufacturers’ optimism sustains a record high, and new home sales double the 2013 numbers. The S&P 500 has added $2 trillion of value since the election, and the Federal Reserve, weighing these and other indicators, pledged to raise interest rates three times in 2017. As Chairwoman of the Fed Janet Yellen explains, “The simple message is, the economy is doing well.”
Internationally, our troubles pale in comparison to other leading nations. Corruption, a falling Yuan, capital flight and growing housing and debt bubbles constrain China to the lowest growth in a quarter century. Japan, in its third “lost decade,” faces a dwindling population, monetary stimulus dependency and the highest level of debt in the world. International sanctions, low energy prices and the longest recession in decades weaken Russia and fuel anti-Putin protests. The refugee crisis, shrinking populations, Brexit and the future of the European Union, confound and consume the U.K., France and Germany. Brazil, in its worst recession ever, impeached its president, and 303 of 513 congressmen and 49 of 81 senators remain under investigation for corruption. In an international sea of chaos and instability, the United States remains a bastion of strength and guidance.
Under Trump, political interest, engagement and involvement have reached new heights. Though partisanship runs rampant, citizens are exceedingly willing and empowered to sacrifice their time and energy for their beliefs. With the executive branch hampered by courts and low public approval ratings, and with Congress locked in bitter party conflict, the potential of individual, local and state activism and engagement has never been greater.
Many of Trump’s most controversial and feared campaign promises have failed to materialize, been blocked or lessened. The Affordable Care Act held, the “Muslim ban” remains blocked and the media, far from muzzled, is empowered. On campus, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have yet to storm the Quad and our daily lives continue with little alteration.
Whether one sees Trump as a demagogue or hero, our system has so far overcome any perceived threat. The separation of powers prevents individuals from unilaterally altering the character of the nation. We do not wish to criticize or praise President Trump, but to review the current state of affairs and show that America remains strong. We cannot claim Trump represents American demise if we are not declining. It is too early to credit Trump with America’s current strength and eminence. But we can be sure he has not prevented it. If Trump is the ultimate threat to America, the nation’s survival is the ultimate testament to America. Though millions of Americans remain worried for the future, we can be reassured by the power of our American system and be certain that the state of our union remains strong.