Ho, Ho or Oh, Woe, depending on which Americans you talk to now that the holiday season is upon us. Some 55 million Americans gave up the peace and undisturbed quiet of working from home to visit relatives and friends for this past weekend’s Thanksgiving celebration, about two-thirds ignoring the high price of gasoline, the balance (4.5 million) the vagaries of what was once called scheduled airline service, others taking to buses, trains or cruise ships, the latter often but not always permitted to complete a round-trip voyage.
Having arrived, they consumed 46 million turkeys at a cost of more than $1 billion, up $155 million from last year, with only Walmart customers guaranteed to pay no more than last year for the turkeys and all the fixin’s: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, some say brussels sprouts but that is disputed, pumpkin pie, ice cream, with the estimated 10 per cent of consumers who claim to be vegans digging into kale salads.
Many families agreed there would be no talk of politics, of Trump’s plan to have another go, Biden’s plan to do the same and in the meanwhile denude the nation of domestic oil and gas production, Elon Musk’s call for a return to cubicles or the unemployment queue. Efforts to discuss whether abortion represents murder or the mother’s exercise of control over her own body were over-ruled in favour of arguments over which guests get the drumsticks.
The Ho, Ho crowd sees a glass half full as Santa loads up his sleigh. The unemployment rate is a low 3.7 per cent, there are two jobs available for every job seeker, wages are rising, retail sales were strong last month, sales of new homes rose 7.5 per cent from September, the Fed finally understands that a belief in transient inflation is belied by the frantic efforts of shop clerks to get the day’s new, higher price signs in place every morning before opening (get there early and see for yourself), gasoline prices are easing, and shortages of cars and most things are fading as supply chains are repaired. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
The Oh, Woe crowd sees tens of thousands of layoffs by Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter; an impending choice between the execrable behavior of Donald Trump and the ill-conceived policies of Joe Biden in 2024 — unless the latter’s Justice Department has the former serving time, and not in the Oval Office; over-stocked retailers flogging outdated apparel to strapped customers in the face of an impending recession; crypto shenanigans about to destroy the financial system; millions upon millions illegally crossing what we are assured is our “secure” southern border, along with enough fentanyl to kill every American by overdose, according to the Department of Homeland Services; crime and addiction on the rise, educational attainment on the wane, and four-in-ten men ages 25-to-29 now living with older relatives. And Republicans now in control of the House preparing to deal with inflation, the need to support Ukraine, strengthen an under-funded military and other problems by, get this, impeaching President Biden.
According to the Real Clear Average of polls, two-out-of-every-three Americans think the country is on the wrong track. But America remains the destination of choice of the world’s masses – people vote with their feet and emigration is a ripple compared with the wave of immigration – these distressed observers who expect little “Merry” in the coming Christmas or “Happy” in the coming New Year must be missing something. They are.
These problems are the result of policy choices, not acts of nature or of a malign deity. Even covid, visited on innocent Americans by China and then spreading rapidly, met its match, or did its damage, largely depending on policy choices. President Trump’s wise policy decision to gamble billions on Operation Warp Speed made a vaccine available in record time. Many governors’ unwise policy decisions to follow the lead of a medical bureaucrat who had not faced a patient in decades, and cede to the demands of the teachers’ unions, multiplied the psychic and economic damage or the pandemic by closing our schools.
Inflation did not descend upon the U.S. in a spaceship returning from the space station. It resulted from a decision by the keepers of the fate of the American economy, cloistered in the boardroom of the Federal Reserve System, to retain negative interest rates in the face of rising prices. And a complicit decision by the federal government to unleash billions on consumers, resulting in too many dollars chasing too few goods.
America’s loss of prestige in the world did not result from some irresistible force that afflicts the powerful. It resulted from Trump’s decision to find allies’ eyes in which to stick his thumb, and Biden’s decision to exit Afghanistan, and its bungled execution, abandoning thousands of allies and leaving a terrorist organization a gift of billions in American military equipment.
The solution to all our problems, the late Charles Krauthammer reminded us, is to be found in the advice of Demosthenes. Asked what was to be done about the decline of Athens, he replied, “I will give what I believe is the fairest and truest answer: Don’t do what you are doing now.”