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Sick of winning

Sick of winning
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In 2015 Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE told us if he became president, America would win so much “we’d be sick and tired of winning.” When I first heard this, relayed tongue-in-cheek by a colleague at my workplace, I laughed. We all did. We knew a lot about the world and how things like politics and economics really worked – indeed, we were paid based on this supposition – and we laughed at the absurdity and the bombast and the never-gonna-happen prospect of a Trump presidency. (Indeed, even calling a potential Trump victory a “tail risk” earned me polite chuckles in the staff room; my famous boss told me the chances of a Trump win were “near zero.”) 

But, of course, it was not funny. Trump won the presidency, and set about notching a series of “wins” that would make even King Pyrrhus proud. 

The U.S. stock market continued its bull run to record highs — fueled by pro-cyclical, deficit-booming tax cuts, inequality-increasing buybacks and attacks on central bank independence. And now, a record-setting crash has provoked unprecedented and extreme interventions by the Federal Reserve to prop up financial markets.

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Unemployment, in fact, reached a 50-year low. But promised “MAGA” jobs in manufacturing and mining never materialized; instead, services and the insecure gig economy further flourished. And now, nearly 27 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

Domestic energy (particularly oil) production boomed, while efforts to combat climate change and environmental degradation collapsed. So too, now have oil prices, leaving U.S. oil diplomacy looking feckless and our once-darling shale industry looking for a government bailout. 

Trump took a much-needed harder line with China on terms of trade and intellectual property theft — in the context of an otherwise irrational and destructive tariff-led trade war. And now, supply chains are critically injured, the overhyped “phase one” trade deal is effectively obsolete and China is gaining geopolitical advantage on the U.S.

And yes, Trump did manage to defeat efforts by Democrats and “deep state” institutionalists to punish him for welcoming election interference from Russia and explicitly soliciting it from Ukraine.

In the meantime, U.S. democratic institutions have eroded, civil liberties have declined (especially for migrants) and America’s hegemony-sustaining role as the leader of the “free world” has weakened further. MAGA.

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With the advent of the coronavirus, we are all – quite literally – sick of all this “winning.” The Trump administration has proven itself uniquely incapable of effectively slowing and stopping COVID-19, with the president’s often corrupt and always narcissistic war on technocrats and his penchant for conspiracies and/or “hoaxes,” leaving the world’s wealthiest country tragically unprepared. Many more Americans have died as a result. And as Trump tries to engineer another “win” by prematurely “re-opening the economy” and inciting protests in states with whose governors he feuds, there is a great risk that many more will continue to do so.

There is a deep irony at work here. Trump is America’s first viral president, a showman/conman candidate who married the old political tools of misinformation and ethnic grievance with new social media to spread his pop ethno-nationalism among voters in red and purple states. And now a real virus has emerged: Not an ephemeral, superficial artifact of the internet age but a biological, seemingly immutable pathogen that is as fundamental as life and death. As real as Trump is fake; as deep as Trumpism is shallow.

So much for winning; in fact, America is clearly losing. And, hopefully, we’re sick of it. 

Mark Y. Rosenberg is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.