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  • Victor C. Bolles

Deficit of Hope



I remember it well. The spring of 1982 was an important time in my life. Our team at Citibank had just completed a $2 billion syndicated loan for Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) issued at 3 3/4% over the London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR). The syndicated loan was fully sold out to 154 banks around the world and Walter Wriston, the famous chairman of Citibank, attended the luncheon celebrating the issue. That success was followed up by a quick bond issue, also for Pemex, with a coupon of 17 ¾%. What??? You might say. How can anyone borrow money at such a rate? Its mindboggling.


But the US and much of the world was caught up in stagflation, a stagnant economy beset by high inflation. Inflation in the US was almost 16% and the Fed Funds rate when we did the bond was around 15%. The mortgage on my house in Darien, Connecticut was 14.5%. Conditions were much worse than they are now. Many of the people following my commentaries are shocked by inflation of 9% (which has since fallen to somewhere between 3 and 5%). They are also worried about a Fed Funds rate around 5.5%. The housing market is swooning because the mortgage rates have gone up to 7 or 8%.


Back in the early 80s things were much worse than now, but we were not despairing. We were working hard to get out of the mess we had gotten ourselves into. One of the big factors giving us the motivation to do the hard work of recovery was the hope of a better day to come. And that hope was created by the actions and rhetoric of the president of the United State, Ronald Reagan. As reported by NBC News, Reagan ran on optimism.


“In the face of a troubled economy and deep voter pessimism about the direction of the country, Ronald Reagan accepted his party’s nomination for president in 1980 with a stirring speech that promised better days ahead.
“I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts from one crisis to the next, eroding our national will and purpose,” he said in June of that year. “The time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny, to take it into our own hands.””

Our current president who also wants to be our next president, does not offer us hope. He offers us government programs and government programs are a lot different than hope. Government programs say you can’t afford to raise your own kids without government help. Government programs say your education is not worth enough to pay off your student loans. Government programs and welfare don’t give people hope. It tells people that they are hopeless, that they can’t take care of themselves without the help of the government.


And the former president, who also wants to become our next president, doesn’t offer us hope either. He offers revenge and retribution for those that he thinks betrayed him in the past. He asserts that he can end the war on Ukraine in 24 hours but neglects to tell us how he is going to do that. I guess just his wonderful negotiating skill. But he doesn’t offer hope for the people to strive to achieve their unique American Dream. He offers solutions to their problems but all solutions must go (Trumpeus ex machina) through him and only him.


American greatness comes from its people, not its leaders, because that is how the Founders structured our country to be run. We have had some pretty great leaders but it was the people they led that gave us greatness. George Washington was a great leader, but it was the men that suffered through the frigid winter in Valley Forge that helped him achieve victory. Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant were great leaders, as well, but it was ordinary men from states like Ohio and Illinois that sacrificed their lives to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery. Our leaders today don’t believe in the ability of the American people to achieve anything, let alone the American Dream. They think that the American Dream must be given to them by the government or by the great leader. But that is Joe Biden’s dream or Donald Trump’s dream, not your dream or my dream.


 

What the American people want in the upcoming 2024 elections, is an upbeat optimistic campaign that gives them reason to hope. A campaign like Reagan’s Morning in America that inspired so many. They are unlikely to get that.


We are only at the early stages of a primary campaign that will not officially start until 2024. President Biden has conducted a limited campaign and seems likely to get the nomination as long as he can still walk and talk. None of the other candidates on the Democratic side appear to have a chance, however, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. could steal some votes from Biden if he runs as an independent as he threatens to do. President Biden’s campaign seems to be predicated on saving American democracy from Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans while offering additional government programs along with debt forgiveness as inducements to voters.


Former President Trump holds a commanding lead over other Republican challengers and appears likely to win renomination. The challengers are (mostly) treating the former president with kid gloves in order to not offend his base and spend a lot of their time sniping at each other. The former president has held a couple of rallies but the bulk of his campaign is appearing in front of the various courts where he has been indicted, giving him the opportunity to rail against the Democrats and their witch-hunt (which has been surprisingly effective in generating donations and raising his polling numbers).


And prospects down ballot are not promising. Far right Republicans (with some encouragement from former President Trump) have managed to kick Kevin McCarthy out of his speakership for the sin of keeping the government open with the bipartisan support of the Democrats. In the Republican party of the 21st century bipartisanship is a mortal sin – mortal to the reelection of any moderate who attempts to work with Democrats.


But bipartisan governance is what most Americans are desperately longing for but are unlikely to get any time soon. Important legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could only become a success because of the support of both parties. Without bipartisan support or an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress, legislation is replaced with executive orders. President Obama issues hundreds of executive orders that Republicans don’t like. President Trump rescinds President Obama’s executive orders and replaces them with his own executive orders. The first thing President Biden did in office was to rescind executive orders of President Trump and issue his own executive orders. This is not governance. And it is not hopeful.


No one can build a future with presidents tacking back and forth across the political spectrum. It use to be that Republicans and Democrats shared very similar goals for America’s future. They may have disagreed on the means of achieving those shared goals but were able to work together to move the country forward. Increasingly in the 21st century, the goals of the party leaders have diverged. The Republicans and Democrats in Congress are no longer colleagues that can work together, but enemies who must be opposed at all costs. This is not how democracies work. This is how democracies die.


But there is still a glimmer of hope. While the goals of the politicians have diverged and mutated, the goals of most of the American people have remained constant. Those goals were first enunciated by the Founders in the Preamble to the US Constitution, justice, domestic tranquility, defense against oppressors and the blessings of liberty. In other words, the American Dream.

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