Part of me wants to nap until election day -- and I'm a political junkie. The campaign coverage has descended to such a level of distraction and foolishness, especially in the electronic media, that it's difficult to bear. Unfortunately, most people will be sufficiently indoctrinated by this sideshow, and I give you President-elect McCain. Where he is the truly risky choice, the media must have Obama in that box. Where the election should be a referendum on the now incontestable consequences of the Republican policies McCain will continue, it will be a referendum on Obama. I give you: President-elect McCain.
And he's the "conservative." Yet he is no impostor. He is the same kind of "conservative" that has run the country for years.
This perhaps is the biggest irony in the room. A quarter century of "conservative" rule -- including Bill Clinton and the Gingrich Congress -- have given us a larger government, huge deficits, a crippling debt, debased culture, overseas adventures and imperial presidential power (We're Americans: we torture) that would make Calvin Coolidge, Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater cringe. It is even counter to the ideas of Ronald Reagan as a political thinker (and, yes, he was a formidable one). By way of context, Ike, Nixon and George H.W. Bush were right-of-center pragmatists, not conservatives.
The heirs of Buckley bravely carry water for today's "conservatives," but Buckley couldn't have died a happy man, to see where his counter-revolution led (he became a vocal critic of the Iraq adventure). Burke and Russell Kirk are spinning so fast in their graves as to provide new data to particle physicists.
Years ago, when I was a reporter in San Diego, we had a contest: Who can bore readers with the fewest words in the lede (the winner, at three words: "Otay Water District," as in, "Otay Water District directors voted Tuesday to..." -- the reader would have moved on to the hockey scores after only three words).
Nowadays the winner is "world trade talks." A funny thing, that, considering how much globalization has revolutionized American lives, for good and ill, while most Americans haven't been paying attention. So prop open your eyeballs as I note that world trade talks collapsed yesterday.
I suspect something more fundamental changed. The failure of the Doha Round of talks may well mean the end of the trade paradigm that has prevailed since the end of World War II. This is the biggest news story that will get the least attention.
This is a break from the David Mapstone series set in Arizona. The Pain Nurse revolves around a murder in a big city hospital in Cincinnati. Never fear, Mapstone will return. In addition, paperback editions of Camelback Falls and Dry Heat are in the works.
Meanwhile, it looks like I'll be in Phoenix for the West Valley Arts Council's Big Read event in September. A signing is also scheduled at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23rd. I'll check in with more details once they are firmed up.
I must call your attention to one of Jim Kunstler's best posts in years, "The Coming Re-Becoming." Must reading. It includes this priceless passage:
In the days when the Harmony Mill was built, only South Seas cannibals and sailors wore tattoos. You wonder: are tattoos now the only way left for this class of Americans to assert their selfhood? And what exactly are they proclaiming? I am a warrior. Or is it: I am a television (I display pictures, too) !?
The expanding class of the poor-and-idle has been remarkably passive in the face of their dwindling prospects. Perhaps they passed the point years ago (a generation or two ago!) when there was any sense of sequential improvement for the family's station-in-life.
The destiny of their everyday lives must seem totally beyond their control. They are subject to the fate of distant corporations who sell the staple corn-syrup byproducts and gasoline on which daily life is based.
Read to the end. And cheer.
When people tell me their children don't read newspapers, I usually say, "Wow, you don't seem like someone who would raise stupid children." This invariably takes them aback, perhaps if for no other reason than it's not the typical hangdog response from newsies of, "I know."
My point to that the people who will tell their children what to do as adults will get factual information, sophisticated analysis, in-depth context and investigative reporting, whether it's delivered online, on dead trees, or through implants in their Botox injections. The people who will rule the world will consume and read journalism. The most gifted of them will also have gained the singular insights into human nature and the world that come from literature and history.
It says something about so many American parents that they are content to raise stupid children into stupid young adults. So I pretty much knew what to expect from a Sunday front page story in the New York Times headlined "Literacy Debate: Online R U really reading."
President-elect McCain, whose election is almost assured for all the reasons cited in previous posts, can't stop sounding desperate. Long gone is his pledge of a dignified campaign on the issues. After earlier virtually calling Obama a traitor, now he's screaming about his opponent not visiting wounded troops in Germany. Here's the real story.
Newer readers to Rogue Columnist might wonder about the attention I pay to my native state of Arizona, even though now I live in Seattle. First, because after I chose to leave the Arizona Republic in April 2007, I took with me a cohort of loyal readers who want something other than the usual mendacious Phoenix cheerleading (think of this as a virtual Battlestar Gallactica). But also because the challenges and troubles Arizona faces carry lessons for all of America. Finally, I fear Phoenix's coming implosion will bring a huge pricetag for American taxpayers, and a human tragedy that shakes our souls.
Some of these readers still tell me they come away from my posts feeling depressed. I want them to realize the facts, get mad as hell and take action. But Phoenicians, even really smart ones, tend to have two emotional gears: blind optimism and suicidal depression. It's a malady as old as settlement of the West, where promotional posters back east led to a trail of broken dreams. Others realize that the mountain Phoenix and Arizona must climb is so steep that it seems hopeless.
I spent seven years as a columnist in Phoenix offering solutions, as well as pointing out the emperor's wardrobe malfunction (and believe me, I pulled my punches every time I wrote). But here again are some solutions. Some might apply to towns other than Phoenix.
Seattle is the most backward city on the West Coast when it comes to mass transit. That still puts it light-years ahead of most American cities. Its bus system is quite good, the first light-rail line opens next year and a street car now links downtown to the burgeoning South Lake Union district. Sounder commuter heavy rail runs from Tacoma north to Everett. In addition, the Cascades Amtrak service provides convenient service between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., including Portland and Seattle. The ferry service is the best in America, despite recent underfunding.
But Seattle residents feel profoundly inferior to Portland, with its world-class light rail system, and Vancouver, with its SkyTrain. And its a sign of how much progress has been made in California that all the service I mention above is a fraction of what's available in LA, San Francisco or San Diego. Yet Seattle is also the gang that couldn't shoot straight when it comes to many transit projects.
A roads-and-transit measure was defeated last year. Now an all-transit measure may come to the November ballot, and already newspapers, powerful suburban developers and even the generally pro-transit King County executive Ron Sims are opposing it. Seattle's misadventures with transit have lessons that apply to other cities, and will be more important in years ahead when a lifestyle based on long, individual auto trips becomes less viable.
One of the biggest underlying problems behind the financial crisis is size. These are the wages of years of mergers and industry consolidation, combined with weak or non-existent regulation. Thus, Wachovia today posted a loss of $8.9 billion -- enough to add to the public funding of Amtrak by nearly eight-fold. In a healthy market economy, a bank with such performance could simply be allowed to "fail," with depositors covered by the FDIC and the shareholders who enabled the disaster taking the fall.
But Wachovia is too big to fail. Like its cousin investment banks on Wall Street and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, its collapse could bring down the entire economy. If necessary it will be propped up, as the Fed and Treasury have done with those other giants. (The immediate damage: $25 billion). That's your money. Of course, the executive class will continue to take home tens-of-millions paychecks as a reward for these disasters.
And yet, the brain surgeons in the executive suites of Wachovia are merely trying to fix the bank enough to sell it. Jamie Dimon's JPMorgan Chase seems to be the last shopper standing at the garage sale of the American economy. The result, in addition to calamity in Wachovia's hometown of Charlotte, will be an even bigger behemoth to hold taxpayers hostage next time.
The corporate media, particularly the electronic division, keeps repeating certain shorthand, whether it's true or not. One example, on display almost daily, is that "John McCain's the maverick." I've gone to great lengths on this blog to disprove that notion. McCain is a fairly conventional "conservative" who once or twice bucked his party when it didn't really matter. You can check his voting record. This is no secret.
McCain's utter hostility to helping the state he claims to represent deal with the problems of rapid urbanization and funding the illegal alien surge that was so profitable to Republican businessmen shows how he will govern domestically. Likewise his "straight shooter integrity" image is shattered by the facts, from the Keating Five onward. (Check the McCain File to your right for more).
Now two more "givens" are in the teleprompter scrips. First is the idea that McCain is a national security expert, ready to be commander in chief on "day one" -- Sen. Clinton helpfully said it herself. The second is that McCain is a "Theodore Roosevelt Republican."
There's just one problem: Neither is true.
Obama's win in the Democratic primary showed him to potentially be one of the most gifted politicians in American history. Yes, he gives a good speech -- something that is underrated, particularly after the embarrassingly inarticulate George W. Bush. If we're to have any chance to address the historic challenges facing the country, we're going to need an inspiring leader at the bully pulpit.
But he also ran a great ground game, outflanking Hillary's admittedly badly run operation, and showed he could push back effectively against Rovian tactics. After the disaster of conservative government on display everywhere and every indication this should be a Democratic year, why can't I come out an admit I was wrong about Obama?
I hope I can. Unfortunately, he has several things going against him, which may prove insurmountable. Remember, Michelle said, "this is it, one campaign and no more," or words to that effect. If Nancy Reagan had said the same thing in 1976, no book would be called "The Age of Reagan," however gifted that orator and politician was.
No point in re-inventing the wheel, so on the "drill drill drill!" scam, I will direct you to Jim Kunstler and his recent correspondence with the oil industry expert Matt Simmons.
Let's also be clear why oil prices are falling: the market believes the U.S. is in a recession and it will be a nasty one.
Once again, the Wall Street Journal goes to Phoenix to report on the most pathological aspects of our economic troubles. It does the in-depth, sophisticated and contextual story on the suicide of Scott Coles and the collapse of his Mortgages Ltd. that the local press will not allow its reporters the time and expertise to do. And remember, the Republic's in-house diktat is, "say something positive about the community" (and use streaming video!!).
The personal story of Coles is the stuff of a tragic novel, albeit for our tawdry era. He was 48 when he wrote a goodbye note, donned a tuxedo, climbed into bed, and apparently committed suicide. His company was in trouble, and with it some of the highest-profile projects in "the Valley." His 20-year-younger second wife, whom he had met in Las Vegas, wanted a trial separation. The darkness he must have felt merits our compassion and prayers.
But the business story must also be told, for it illustrates not only how Phoenix got into its worst downturn in perhaps decades, but also the peril of Ponzi Scheme Nation.
When I moved to Dayton, Ohio, in 1986, it was the first time I lived in a real city. It was far smaller than Phoenix or San Diego, the then sleepy but populous places I'd been, but it seemed bigger. I lived in a leafy city neighborhood of old houses and took the bus to work. The downtown was a compact mass of skyscrapers held in a bend of the Great Miami River. The newspaper was there, in a lovely old building enchanted by history, with a newspaper bar right next door and a bustling historic domed arcade across the street. Two department stores were a block away. Across the square was the old courthouse where Lincoln had spoken. Nearby, a jazz club.
The economy was robust. The "Rust Belt" was reinventing itself as an innovative superpower and Dayton was no exception. While National Cash Register had shut manufacturing of the old machines -- a trauma affecting thousands -- it had become a successful global computer giant. Mead, the paper company, was headquartered in a downtown tower and starting a data operation that became LexisNexis. Dayton had the second largest concentration of General Motors employees in the world, and its factories were being retooled and reinvented, often with UAW bosses as leading innovators. Hundreds of suppliers provided well-paid, high-skilled jobs that were as productive as any in the world. The airport hosted an airline passenger hub for the best-run carrier in America, Piedmont, as well as a freight hub for Emery Worldwide. For a kid from the West, this introduction to the Midwest was a heartland epiphany.
Those assets are almost all gone now. And when I wonder why Ohio seems so crazy -- how it could have voted for Bush in 2004, if indeed it did; why it fell for Hillary's Wellesley girl Norma Jean routine; why it could now be a tossup for McCain (?!). When I wonder all these things, I think about Dayton.
The FDIC, one of those "liberal" "socialist" things foisted on free-market America by Franklin Roosevelt, had to step in Friday to avoid a major bank run. More failures are expected and -- dirty little secret -- only about $2.5 trillion of the $7 trillion deposited in U.S. banks are actually federally insured.
Seven trillion sounds like a lot. But Americans are in hock to $12 trillion in mortgage debt as housing prices have collapsed, the last big factory of America (making houses) has all but shut down, and foreclosures are reaching records. The Iraq war will cost another $3 trillion. The U.S. national debt is $10 trillion (nearly double from 2001). That ought to tell you something about the mess we're in.
What's being little reported about the seizure of IndyMac "Bank" is that the institution is a bastard child of Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo's death star of subprime calamity (now a boulder around the neck of Bank of America). IndyMac was spun off because it was collatoralizing mortgages too big to be sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now on federal life support. The bubble was so huge, fed by so much fraud and bad policy, that the barons had to find "innovative" ways to keep it going. And all that time, the regulators waved it on. This is the mess we're in.
Let's get this straight at the outset: Phil Gramm, President-elect McCain's chief economics adviser, did not misspeak when he said the only thing wrong now is a "mental recession" and America is a "nation of whiners." The corporate media, to the extent they are covering the story at all, are leading with McCain's disavowal of Gramm. McCain has said the same kinds of things. He also said Social Security is "an absolute disgrace." This is what Republicans believe. Imagine if Obama had said such things?
While McCain is again showing his fundamental dishonesty, and the media are continuing to cover for him, Gramm unambiguously showed the mindset of today's Republican Party. "Creative destruction" is their mantra, "free markets" their religion. And if you lived Gramm's life, you might well wonder, "why are people complaining?" The former senator from Texas championed tax cuts for the wealthy, breaks for corporation and deregulation. He was repaid handsomely, most recently with his ties to the giant bank UBS.
Most Americans have paid a huge price. Median incomes have actually fallen in recent years, millions have lost their health insurance, and most average workers are losing the foundation of the middle class: secure jobs at good wages with benefits and pensions. This was partially concealed by the scam of the housing bubble, and now that's gone. The Republican leaders, who have become wealthy from tax cuts, outsourcing, union busting and community-destroying mergers say, "stop whining."
But will they pay a price in November? I'm not convinced.
The Wall Street Journal gives Phoenix some of the prominence it deserves today, and sorry to say the stories are not about golf, how the city doesn't have Buffalo's snowfall in winter, or the latest stripmall in Su-prise.
The Journal looks at Phoenix for the perfect example of the disastrous tenant-in-common investments, focusing on the misbegotten Le Nature headquarters and bottling plant on the site of the old East High. The company went into bankruptcy soon after the building was completed -- such is the vibrant economy set up by Arizona's "low taxes and regulation." And investors were screwed.
The bottling company went bankrupt, leaving 35 real-estate investors in a bind. To come up with a solution, all 35 of them had to agree -- no dissenters. None of them could be in charge while they discussed what to do. And, for most of them, their life savings were at stake.
Then there's a fascinating look at the high hidden cost communities pay for a high incarceration rate. So of course the Journal went to that mecca of civic dysfunction, Phoenix.
Here in South Mountain, a district in south Phoenix, more than 3,800 residents are displaced, serving time in prison or the county jail. For every 100 adults, 6.1 are behind bars. That's more than five times the national average of 1.09 per 100, according to a report by the Pew Center, a nonpartisan research group. Arizona has the fastest-growing prison population of the Western states, having increased 5.3% in 2007 to more than 38,000.
Behind those figures are many hidden, related costs -- financial burdens that communities are often left to manage. For every person who goes to jail, businesses lose either a potential employee or customer. Inmates' children often depend on extended families, rather than a parent, to raise them. With only so many government resources to go around, churches, volunteer programs and other groups must often step in to help.
In one nine-block stretch of central South Mountain, nearly 500 out of 16,000 residents are in the state system either as prisoners or as probationers who return regularly to jail. Prison costs associated with this nine-block area amount to roughly $11 million annually, according to an estimate from the Justice Mapping Center, a New York organization that examines crime patterns.
Way to score with the most influential set of readers in the world! The readers who will decide not to put quality investments anywhere near Arizona, the Appalachia of the 21st century. Of course more bottom feeders and right-wing thugs will say coooool! and move there. Also kudos to the Journal for not using the idiotic city hall jargon of "South Mountain Village." Villages don't have a hundred thousand or more people. Cities have districts. Oh, I forgot, Phoenix isn't really a city.
There's also a journalism lesson here, re yesterday's post. These two stories represent the essential relevance, meaning and sophistication that come from veteran journalists at the top of their game. These can't be done by low-wage cubs chasing features as "mo-jos."
Today the Republic changed the online pages that contain the day's newspaper to the uniform template that Azcentral.com recently adopted. The site looks very quiet now, even compared to some other big Gannett papers. It certainly lacks the production values, much less the substance, that make the Online Wall Street Journal, Washington Post or New York Times such eyeball grabbers (if only online ads paid the same rates as print). Nor is it any competition for such online successes as Huffington Post.
It's almost as if they are trying not to attract attention. Saying: Nothing to see here. There is a certain numbing repetition to the news cycle in Phoenix: the latest outrages of Sheriff Joe and the Legislature (written with a straight face); traffic and freeway news; illegal immigration; Maryvale crime and the lurid stuff that happens out in the 'burbs "where this kind of thing just doesn't happen"; kids left in hot cars; weather stories; did I say freeway and traffic news?; those embarrassing reports on serious local issues that surface from time to time; the well-meaning white papers that will never be implemented; the drearily predictable right-wing voices, lacking in grace or even humor, and an unending vomitus of features, rewritten press releases and boosterism, especially about Glendale!, Chandler!, Gilbert!, and, especially, Scottsdale!! Until lately, there was much "growth" news -- the latest sprawl crap to be built. Now it's foreclosures.
Some members of the staff are still capable of fine work. It's rare they are allowed to do it. But the truth is, not much happens in Phoenix for a city of such size. By that I mean the level of commerce, decision-making, world connections and newsmaking one would expect from "the nation's fifth largest city." Reality flows like underground magma: the place is unsustainable. Otherwise, same stuff, day after day. That's not to say there's no news agenda to be had.
We're in the summer dog-days of make-believe news, such as Obama's non-flip-flop on his Iraq position. The media fill days of news cycles with nothing. The winner so far is today's "pledge" by the G-8 industrialized nations to cut emissions in half by 2050.
Isn't that convenient? Any action to fulfill this promise would be taken long after the distinguished leaders are gone from office. So it's meaningless. President Bush continued his seven-and-a-half years of roadblocking action by saying the U.S. would not act unless China and India did. Otherwise, he reasons, it won't do any good.
Sadly, unless the U.S. leads, the world won't follow, especially developing nations dependent on coal and wanting to live an American suburban lifestyle. Historians and future generations will look back in anger and disbelief at the wasted years. The economic, social and security consequences of global warming will be unlike anything we have ever faced (say goodbye, for example, to Phoenix). And the White House has actively blocked action, such as California's emissions restrictions, that would have made a start.
U.S. leadership will make a difference. Not only will it slow emissions from our own huge smokestack of greenhouse gases, but it will launch a cornucopia of new approaches to energy, transportation and living. But maybe we're not up to the challenge, and maybe the next generations can just suck it up. The rich will be all right. That seems to be the Republican approach.
Former Sen. Jesse Helms died on July 4, and the first inclination might be to ask, "He was still alive?," for he seems so removed from our times. This former television commentator who served 30 years in the Senate, was known mostly for his uncompromising and untelegenic opposition to nearly everything, especially communism and liberalism.
Surely National Review Online, the child of Bill Buckley, would bring some deeper perspectives, or so I thought. He was, the editors wrote, "one of the most consequential conservatives of his generation." They went on:
It is easy to rattle off a long list of what Senator No opposed. First and foremost was Communism. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was an aggressive and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union. He refused to overlook the evils of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba. During the 1980s, he led efforts to support Nicaragua’s contra rebels against the Sandinistas and their incipient totalitarianism.
He was against many other things as well: federal funding of obscene art, ineffective aid to foreign governments, and the continual encroachments of Big Government on everyday life. One of the things he was against in the 1960s was, alas, civil rights. His defense of segregation was of course deeply misguided. But is it fair for this error to have been placed in the first sentence of the New York Times’s obituary of him? Certainly liberals have forgiven the pasts of other segregationists, from Sam Ervin to William Fulbright...
One might ask, who in either party was for communism? Also, Ervin and Fulbright went on to do heroic service in saving the Constitution from imperial presidents, and in any case, their early positions on civil rights have been well documented. But Helms was a generation or more younger than these men yet had learned nothing. He became a Republican representing North Carolina and helped turn the white South to the GOP with both subtle and overt calls to racism. He succeeded beautifully. But even here, he would have failed had not Lyndon Johnson championed civil rights, handing the South to the Republicans for, in his formula, "a generation." Or more.
Bill Kristol wrote a column worth reading in the New York Times this week. He talks about a Fourth of July ritual among friends of actually reading the entire Declaration of Independence. He writes,
So the signers of the declaration made the bold and doubtful choice for independence. Their fellow citizens ratified the choice. But they might have been slow to act if the worthies had not moved first.
For, as the declaration itself notes, “all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” The people are conservative. Liberty sometimes requires the bold leadership of a few individuals.
How an intellectual who can produce such a cogent, even moving, affirmation of American liberty can also support the Bush administration of torture and lethal blunder escapes me. And yes, Major Irony Alert. But it's worth reading.
For my part, I recommend spending the day with Washington's Crossing, David Hackett Fisher's magnificent retelling of perhaps the pivotal campaign in the American Revolution. It will make your heart soar patriotically. And when he writes how George Washington banned brutal treatment of British prisoners, so as to set an example of the American "new order of the ages," well, that will make you weep at what we have lost. At least for now.
I call your attention to Steven Greenhouse's new book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker. It gets at one of the most profound trends and issues facing America, cloaked by our relative affluence, the money many Baby Boomers are getting from parents who earned it in the old America, and the ignorant distraction machine that is the corporate media.
To tell the truth, when I began researching my book, The Big Squeeze, Tough Times for the American Worker, I wasn't planning a separate chapter on the nation's young workers--by that I mean, workers under age 35, and especially young Americans who have recently entered the workforce. But as I proceeded with my research, I was surprised and chagrined to learn how tough things have grown for young workers--and that was before the current economic downturn. As a result, I added a chapter, "Starting Out Means a Steeper Climb."
One especially dismaying study found that men in their thirties have a median income 12 percent lower, after factoring in inflation, than their fathers' generation did when they were in their thirties. That study, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, said, "There has been no progress at all for the younger generation . . . . The up-escalator that has historically ensured that each generation would do better than the last may not be working very well."
The causes for this shift are many, including the rise of China and India, and the end of American industrial dominance after World War II. Some of our own laziness and sense of entitlement hurt -- as does the huge misallocation of resources into suburbia. But much of the change comes from decades of conservative government that underfunded education, gutted worker rights and pensions, provided incentives to destroy the real economy it had taken 100 years to build and the job security and ladders up it provided. CEOs get huge paychecks while workers lose their jobs. From misbegotten trade deals and deregulation, to lax anti-trust and aggressive anti-union policies, much of this is a storm sewed in Washington.
I'm probably the wrong one to ask for an objective comparison between Barry Goldwater and John McCain. I'll always love Barry, despite the flaws and misjudgments that were as big as his accomplishments. Attending Kenilworth School in Phoenix -- where Barry himself had gone years before -- I remember being one of only two kids with the guts to wear Goldwater buttons in 1964. Such was the power of LBJ. But I loved Barry, even at age seven.
Nearly everyone attests to, at best, an arm's length relationship between the aging Goldwater and the newcomer McCain. John Dean and Barry Goldwater Jr. have a new book that looks at a true "maverick from Arizona." Although McCain brags about being a "Goldwater Republican," younger Goldwater family members are having none of it. Granddaughter Alison Goldwater told the Huffington Post, that Barry felt "deceived" by McCain. She says, "I'm sure if we were to raise his ashes from the Colorado River...he would be going, 'What? This is not my vision. This is not my party.' "
McCain is an opportunist where Barry never was. McCain lands in scandals -- from the Keating Five to the latest property tax oops -- that Barry never would have contemplated. If McCain has principles aside from orthodox 1990s right-wing politics, with an occasional tilt to please the national press, I can't find them. Most of all, Barry was an Arizonan. He loved Arizona deeply, personally. Starting as a Phoenix City Councilman, he supported every bond issue to make the city better (his name used to be on the plaque at the old library, simply listed as a city council member). He was a true conservationist.
Yet McCain-as-Goldwater isn't another campaign distraction. It's a topic worth debate and contemplation, one that says much about the trajectory of America over the past 45 years.