By now it should be clear what Trump truly makes great. Bankruptcy. Call it a true calling or habit of experience. But everything he touches sinks into a dark hole. And while he’s hardly the only leech on the financial system, his political movement has the power to breach the last remaining firewall on the almighty U.S. dollar – trust in American democracy.
No matter how many derivatives Wall Street creates or how much lobbyists drain from our budgets each year, the rest of the world believes our system (not our ‘greatness’) can shock absorb bad actors. Go to many other parts of our great earth and you will see a higher tolerance or rather resentful compliance with abuses of power.
Yet whether it’s a death match between rival criminal syndicates or long-fought battles finally winning the next stage of human rights, it seems holding onto tyrannical power slips through most hands eventually in the U.S. Yes, there are injustices still spanning generations, but the American dream eventually spits out desire for corrupt power that lasts in perpetuity.
And more importantly, no true American can counter the moral argument against tyranny. Yet, standing up for justice is still a ‘stupid’ position or at least socially frowned upon as a course of action in most nations. Why be tempted by a belief that will get you killed – physically and/or economically? In more societies than not, it’s ‘right’ to align with the strongman – if he’s a dictator it’s probably all for the better.
But not in America.
Well, at least not until recent memory for millennials and probably even for baby boomers. We have a rageful white nation within the United States that is regressive. Making America white again harkens back to an old spelling test that we’re supposed to have mastered long ago. It’s a scandalous trade that gives a sugar rush of ego for the steep price of destroying what actually does make America great – the unsexy system of checks and balances.
Checks and balances.
Ironically, it sounds financial. And like so many other freedoms, Americans take their foundational charter (the Constitution) for granted. But this ability to fend off tyrants, dictators and autocrats who can hijack the nation’s military, laws and MONEY is what the U.S. dollar banks on.
Ever since President Nixon took the U.S. dollar off of the gold standard in the 1970s, the U.S. dollar truly has been a currency of trust. Yes, it’s backed by the greatest economy in the world (for now). But American economic might merely accommodated the economies of scale needed for a global currency. What it truly scaled was TRUST.
Nothing backs up the U.S. dollar. You can’t exchange it for anything tangible from the bank. They might give you a free toaster for opening an account (do they still do that?) or you can haul physical cash out. But you can’t get gold for your U.S. currency anymore.
It’s a trust in which people around the world place their hard-earned savings and security in the future. It’s a trust in a secure political system. Trust in a free market economy bounded by fair laws. Trust in transparent and democratic elections. Trust in a nation full of hopeful forward thinking citizens. Trust in revolving leadership. Trust in the American way.
Sure, you can have Trump or a more competent dictator in the White House in 2024. But be prepared for the world to ditch the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency. Even now, trust has been severely tested. Recall the mind-numbing words of Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she predicted what a Trump presidency would look like. “Our nation’s institutions will be severely tested,” she said while nodding her head profusely.
Poor Hillary talked above most people’s heads and even I have to squeeze out my Stanford neurons to translate what she said. I think she meant, “This motherfucker will fuck up the trust that people around the world have in America. And we’ll really see who in our government sells out their country to get ahead in a Trump dictatorship.”
And to finish the head bobble that goes on when Clinton stops what she really wants to say mid-paragraph, “That means your money will go to shit if that happens.” Ah, if only she had spoken from the gut.
America is great. But it ain’t great because you’re white. What makes America super-great to be a super-power is its reliable democracy that scales. No tyrants. No dictators. No crippling cronyism. Checks and balances means your money is safe. Economic productivity is higher because of less corruption.
Other people will buy the dollar because they don’t expect a dictator to swoop into office and pass a law to eradicate their wealth. Americans don’t know what that feels like. But keep going down the Donald track and soon there will be a momentum you can’t stop. Soon, you’ll see Biff from Back to the Future 2 in that hot tub where City Hall and his casino were one. We already saw Donald Trump Part 1. Do you really want the sequel?
Yes, America is getting more diseased, but it’s got robust bones and effective systems to cleanse itself, more or less. But the American malaise that takes health for granted and robs the future to feast on the present sets up dangerous conditions for a more talented American dictator to overtake control with a coup d’etat.
Americans should realize that world history shows that dictatorship, military overthrow, monarchies and abusive overlords are ‘normal’. On the other hand, American democracy is abnormal. It’s special. It shouldn’t be able to exist, but it does. And that’s why people around the world buy into the dream. And our dollar. To protect this possibility for the world. Stop thinking a world of American white supremacy makes you desirable or special. If they’re staring hungrily at you, non-Americans are lusting after a crusty document that guarantees freedom from tyrants.
EVERY NEW DICTATOR COMES TO POWER BY COMPLAINING ABOUT THE ABUSES OF THE LAST ONE.
Every new dictator comes to power by complaining about the abuses of the last one. It’s sweet and seductive to have one man (or woman) claim to beat down the wrongs of the past and deliver the good life if you just leave it all up to them. They’re going to be different. They’re a ‘good’ person.
Well, lucky for Americans to be cynical from the get go. They designed a system that assumes all people in power to have the potential of turning rotten. So we try to put the best in power to do some good and in due time, we cycle them out before they turn into demons.
In 1776, Thomas Paine said, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Many Koreans, especially the dispossessed youth, call their nation “Hell Korea”. And it’s because of the tyranny. The abusive power dynamics and endless cycles of revenge. The lack of checks and balances that feeds the voracious flames of tyranny.
The American system creates ladders out of this hell. If you’re in a pit of injustice, there’s usually a way out. But for emerging democracies, there aren’t many ladders. Imagine being stranded in the pits of hell and being abused for wanting a ladder.
South Koreans were stranded in a dictatorship for 18 years from 1961 to 1979 when President Park Chung-hee implemented a coup d’etat to right the wrongs of the previous dictatorial regime. Then he turned into a dictator and rewrote the constitution to overstay his welcome. Yes, during this time, officially South Korea was a democracy that voted to elect the president. Funny how that works if you don’t set it up properly or keep the instructions handy.
But even nations without high quality constitutions have their breaking point. Dictatorship ended when President Park was assassinated by his own director of intelligence. Gunshots. At dinner.
Then another dictator came in for 8 years. Massacred a bunch of his own citizens for power. But, boy did he deliver on bringing in the 1988 Seoul Olympics! Then a pseudo-dictator was followed by a long string of jailing up the last guy in power once the new guy (or gal) gets in.
This is the horrible long tail of tyranny. It’s heartbreaking agony. And it’s bad for the economy. For most of its history, the Korean stock market was undervalued by the so-called ‘Korean discount’. Foreign analysts are quick to pin the blame on the ‘North Korean threat’ and call it a day. But the discount really comes from the tyrannical control of founding families of their corporations long after they diluted their real ownership stake.
Yet perhaps as a reward for increasing transparency and shifting business attitudes towards checks and balances, 2021 may continue the hot streak in South Korean stocks that 2020 saw. North Korea is still there. It’s not Chairman Kim in Pyeongyang that threatens Korean currency (though he terrorizes security and twinkies). It’s the Chairman Kims in corporate suites in Seoul. With their retiring along with their old business practices, things look up. (But don’t expect total change. It’s still hot even if you ascend to the next ring of hell.)
But back to America and the U.S. dollar threat. Printing money zealously to overcome the current crisis may devalue the currency. But the greatest guarantee to meltdown for the dollar is political, not financial. And American politics is actually the true currency of the United States. It may not be gold, but it’s backed up by something tangible. Yes, it can be felt. But, it can be held only in the heart – trust.