This Independence Day I pray to be freed of the irrelevance The Office of the President has been reduced to.
Late night TV produces laughter, gore, and grandiose non sequitur. Late into the night Saturday as I settled into a snooze zone, I stumbled upon a live press-conference where a South Korean reporter was rambling on a long question to President Trump and President Moon. Interrupting, Trump began his more than two minutes long harangue about U.S. stock market performance during his time, especially about how this metric should be calculated, and the Fed’s reluctance to lower the rates. The gathering was about the soon-to-be “historic handshake” on North Korean soil, and not a single question was about the U.S. economy. Even if you were to accept his argument on analytics, you had to scratch your head about why.
Our Dear Leader sees shadows of past presidents and his own party-men behind every curtain, even in a room where every participant goes around in circles to wax eloquently averring brilliance of his grace. Our king-of-no-country communicates in early morning twits, even in state matters, and professes love for potentates through exchanges in hand-written notes. Our royal family of no substance appears unannounced, irksome and unwelcome, in gatherings where a ticket requires decades of grunt-work otherwise. Hangers-on in royal patronage, each more loathsome than the next, revel in trolling every sensible human being for the mere courage of standing up for our better selves.
Apologists credit the status quo for reducing a Presidency to its bare minimum. A President should be judged by the Peace and Prosperity it brings to the country, the argument goes, a better one should have higher numerical measures of GDP growth, stock market levels, consumer confidence, lower unemployment (and/or higher labor participation), and a lull in overt (or covert) conflicts abroad. I could quibble as to if the current levels are more commendable than turnarounds of the yore, but it is undeniable that we are living in a goldilocks period. Once you accept that premise, apologists will ask you to ignore everything else, drink Kool-aid and sing Kum-ba-yah till you fall asleep.
And wake up to a different reality. Trained both as a statistician and a financial analyst, I am instinctively wary of causality and trend, trained further as an economist I am acutely aware of economic risks of actions to boost metrics. We are borrowing – literally and figuratively – against our future, recklessly spending on gimmicks that have limited longer-term multiplier effect (over alternatives that most certainly provide better bang for the buck long term). Our whimsical stance on global platforms have reduced us to laughing stock of the world, fraying alliances we built over decades with possible fallouts for generations to come.
It is making both the Presidency and the country – USA – less relevant than ever before, precisely at a time world needs U.S. leadership more than ever. China is an existential threat to our way of life – as defined by the supremacy of freedom of speech and religion, democracy and a market economy that is not dictated by the mandarins of control; containing China might require us to make sacrifices. A President that blows hot and cold only gives China more time to consolidate gains it already made with bribery and chicanery that it is so capable of. European nations, bereft of a rudder on their soil, can be forgiven if they fall into an embrace with China after being taken for granted, and then humiliated repeatedly, by their protector-of-note against the Big Bad Bear. New Russia is no different than Old USSR, and they are under no compunction to save Comintern Comrades worldwide. Emerging Africa is coming of age in a period that is not unipolar (or bipolar) anymore. India, fresh from recoil after its disastrous decades of Non-Aligned Movement, does not have an interest in, nor is capable of, providing leadership beyond SAARC countries. Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia are too busy squabbling over their small world to provide positive influence elsewhere. An America First doctrine most surely has put U.S. interests on the backburner.
It behooves to remind ourselves what brought us here. We are economic migrants for sure, but that is only a part. We embraced a world that embraced us back, we walked down suburbs marked by “Refugees and Immigrants Welcome” banners everywhere, dropped our toddlers off in kindergartens where they were made to feel proud of their multiple identities. We were in rapt attention when a lanky young man who enthralled a nation by his vision of these United States; like him, and like an exalted lineage before him, we too had a dream. To reiterate, it is the values, and the right to interpret it in our own being, that made us Americans – we chose a body of ideals and way of life more than we chose material gains. U.S. of A was no cakewalk for any of us, but it was an experiment that invited to us to make it a more perfect union making us vested in its success, and it made our experience its own.
Except that it did not if you believe people who seem to have our President’s ear. Much of the country has learned to ignore the President because he does not represent what the country is all about. Just as markets have learned to ignore his twits on impending trade talks (or imposition of tariffs), media has learned to ignore protestations about an imaginary witch hunt, NY real estate market had long learned to ignore this no-good dilettante whose braggadocio could not mask his record of failures. A masterful showman with a finger on the pulse of the people he truly represents, he – sadly – came to personify, and amplify, the Ugly American persona that I believe is false for the people I interact with daily. By trying to make himself appear bigger than he is, he has made the Presidency much smaller than it should be.
President Trump, more than anybody else in living memory, has reduced The Office of the President to an absurdity. He continues to revel in every minute of it. The country goes on in spite of. The world moves on because of. This President has freed the country from expectations we could have on the High Office. This Independence Day, I am thankful to him for that and hopeful we will soon lose that independence.
[Partha Chakraborty, Ph.D., CFA is an entrepreneur in Blockchain and Wealth Management. All opinions are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent that of any organization he may be part of. The author alone is responsible for any error or omission.]