Tuesday, 27 October, 2020

American Carnage

Six months into Trump’s run as President, it is clear that the United States is facing an extremely difficult, exceedingly complex set of problems without capably leadership.  Trump described this “American Carnage” in his inauguration speech.  After the jump, there are some quick solutions to many of these challenges that continue to worsen.


Russia meddled in the 2016 election, according to multiple intelligence agencies.  Members of the Trump campaign have released documents that show the intent to and execution of efforts to coordinate with the Russian government.

There are three key problems with this incident: (1) Russia attacked the United States, (2) Russia found some useful idiots to help/commit treason, and (3) Trump appears to be obstructing the investigation into this incident.

The latter two issues are political and judicial questions (e.g., impeachment and incarceration) that are unlikely to find resolution if Trump controls the levers within the Department of Justice and Republicans in Congress remain loyal to Trump.  After 2018 and 2020 — assuming no interference from Russia — then political checks will be in place.  This process assumes no interference from Russia, which is the real problem.

The solution to cyber conflict is to change our defensive stance into an offensive stance.  The United States needs to return to a Cold War, realpolitik stance for cyber conflict.   The solution is relatively straightforward: the United States needs to develop a potent arsenal of cyber attacks in order to deter future Russian attacks and the United States needs to develop a weapon to stop cyber attacks as they leave Russia — a cyber quarantine — not when they arrive in the United States.

In other words, we need to be able to flip the switch on Boris and Natasha’s grandma and cut off their attacks before they come to our shores.  As a result, the United States should increase funds for STEM education and shift immigration policy to  recruiting the best and brightest minds from around the world to the United States.


Political hacks continue to fan xenophobic flames by using racist dog whistles to build support for anti-immigration policies.  These policies are terribly misguided.Instead of looking at immigration as a problem, the United States needs to view immigration as an opportunity.  To secure a better future, the United States should actively recruit the best and brightest from other countries.

The far-right solution often involves fool-hearty vigilante mobs protecting the border and unfunded mandates and half-baked federal directives for local police that undermine their ability to protect their communities.  Although the meme developed far-right media might suggest that immigration leads to many social ills, data suggests that areas that receive immigrants report stronger economic growth and less crime.


Racism is unfortunately alive and well in the United States.  Despite increased efforts for racial sensitivity training and video documentation procedures, white-on-nonwhite police brutalities continue to occur on an alarming basis.  While widely distributed videos show white police officers unloading entire clips of bullets into unarmed black victims, images of white police officers calmly negotiating with heavily armed, agitated white nationalists.  The stark difference demands continued efforts to reform the police — including procedures to reeducate or remove potential problems in the police force.

Arguably worse than the brutal assaults that occur, when video clearly shows a white police officer killing an unarmed black man in an automobile — with his child in the backseat — juries refuse to convict the police officer.  The lack of support from white society for our minority peers is unacceptable.  These cases continue the trend where juries often let white defendants off on light punishments while providing stricter sentences for minority groups.

Reforms to undermine the clandestine segregation programs – from municipal fragmentation to real estate anti-steering regulation enforcement – need to take a high priority to stem the racism that leads to horrific outcomes caused by bad apples in the police force and society’s jury pool.


The United States has the largest population of prisoners in the world.  A niche industry around criminal punishment has grown rapidly over the last two decades on a simple scheme: states pay a private prison to incarcerate convicted criminals.  These prisons collect huge sums of cash for often substandard conditions.  As states continue to face budget challenges, incarceration costs continue to balloon.  At some point in the near future, the bubble will burst as state leaders will conclude that the “prison industrial complex” drains the public budget.

The United States needs to consider the jail-early-jail-often policy from the past two decades.  Alternative punishments might be more appropriate than going to jail, especially if the programs reduce the likelihood of committing crimes in the future.  For example, for drug-related crimes, policies that reward sobriety with reduced sentences (assuming continued sobriety) can save the system money to be used for crime prevention.

Drugs and Mental Health

Mental health and drug use are some of the largest challenges facing the criminal justice and corrections systems in the United States.  Prison systems are often the largest mental health providers in the nation — despite the personnel in prisons often having little mental health training.

It is significantly less expensive and significantly more humane to provide mental health intervention outside of the department of corrections.  Whether the mental health issue is hereditary or garnered through drug use as an addiction, the time to intervene is before crime occurs.  (One should note that mental health does not necessarily correlate with crime — especially if you drop addiction from the equation.)

The United States continues to face a drug epidemic; this decade’s iteration includes heroin, which appears to disproportionately impact lower- and middle-income, rural and suburban whites.  It is abundantly clear that the “War on Drugs” did not work, and that continuing to go “on offense” will likely not succeed in stopping the addiction carnage.

In many cases, addicts start using drugs as an escape mechanism caused by personal, social, or economic issues.  Targeting each of these issues — from public investments in local culture and education to reviving the local economy — can help stem the demand.  Aggressive anti-drug measures — from drug education (not propaganda, actual education) to investments in rehabilitation programs — can help slow the demand-side of the economics behind the drug trade.  Finally, producing a strong mental health safety net for those in recovery can help formerly using-addict stay on the wagon.


Trump is on record for wanting to let the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) fail — even if it means millions go without access to health insurance, which could lead to Americans dying.

ACA is a flawed piece of legislation.  Despite many flaws, the ACA has provided viable access to health insurance to millions of Americans.  Trump and Republicans promised to repeal and replace the bill, yet the party appears completely incapable of garnering support for either of these steps.

Several options are immediately available to improve the ACA.  (1) Returning subsidies to original levels would allow the bill to counter increases in insurance rates.  (That part of the bill worked until the GOP Congress cut funds in an attempt to starve the bill.)  (2) Establishing and adequately funding new healthcare cooperatives as they launch will provide more competition in rural areas.  (3) Enabling group plans among individuals will allow organizations to leverage market power for better prices when negotiating deals.  In other words, the law could let folks form groups for more market share and therefore better deals.  (4) Expanding funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA will buttress the private market while providing help for some of the nation’s highest need populations.

The Economy

The American economy continues to report good “top-line” numbers, however many of those numbers are relatively hollow.  The American “Main Street” economy continues to suffer from the hangover left by the Great Recession.  Reforms written by ex-pats from large banks reinforced the quadropoly in the finance industry, while other large industries maintain regional monopolies (telecommunications, among others).

Trump’s current plans include attempts to revive the coal industry, which directly impacts roughly 50,000 full-time jobs.  Even with the aggressive multipliers, the entire coal industry likely impacts less people than a single corporation like Ford.

The United States should look forward to building the next wave of Fortune 500 companies by investing locally.  Roughly twenty counties in the United States account for the lion’s share of economic growth.  These cities develop and implement strategies attract high value-added workers, foster communities where innovation happens naturally, and build the businesses of tomorrow.  For the nation to achieve better and more equitable economic growth, the United States needs to partner with local government to spawn more of these agglomeration economies.  Stopping the brain drain, fostering and capitalizing on a dynamic workforce is the route to prosperity — not sending a canary back into the coal mine.

American Leadership

In October, I suggested that Trump was a threat to contemporary American values.  Six months in, it appears that Trump is neither in line with those values nor able to implement his authoritarian populist principles.  The only result is continued American carnage.  That carnage appears to be spreading.

Trump’s behavior regarding critical allies — from the G20 to NATO — have severely injured long-term relationships.  The insults and embarrassment from Trump incidents have undermined the United States’ capability to lead the world.  As a result, once regional crises (e.g. North Korea intercontinental missile launches) become unanswered international incidents.

I strongly believe that with the correct leadership, the United States can be the country of tomorrow.  For the world’s sake, the United States needs to reassert itself as a leader — whether it is checking the Russian cyberattacks worldwide or developing a plan to limit the carnage caused by climate change.  Unfortunately, under Trump, American Carnage is becoming Global Carnage all too quickly.

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