Since Donald Trump was elected after running a campaign on national apocalypticism, claiming both that America’s greatest days were behind it and that America’s current track was sure to meet complete annihilation, it is clear that a message of imminent threat has resonated with a significant portion of American conservatives.
According to polls conducted by YouGov, 90 percent of Republicans believe that the United States is headed down the wrong track politically, with another poll conducted by Pew research estimating about two-thirds of Republicans believing life to have been better 50 years ago. This represents a deep division from the heralded golden era of Ronald Reagan’s Republicanism classified by both entrepreneurial optimism and concerted effort in the face of Soviet danger.
“The difference between an American and any other kind of person is that an American lives in anticipation of the future because he knows it will be a great place,” Reagan said in his 1979 announcement that he was running for president.
Is this new shift to apocalyptic rhetoric in the Republican party truly warranted? James Pethokoukis, a writer at Vox, argued that it is not supported by the data, especially following the country’s steady recovery following the 2008 financial crisis.
“The stubborn facts, both from within and outside government, paint a much different picture than that presented by the apocalyptarians,” Pethokoukis argued. “More than 15 million private sector jobs have been generated during the recovery. And over the past year the jobless rate has dropped to 4.9 percent from 5.1 percent, even as the labor force has grown by 2.4 million. Also encouraging has been the rise in total earnings — higher hourly wages combined with hours worked — by 3.5 percent during the past year, economist Brian Wesbury of First Trust Advisors has noted. That’s pretty decent, especially with inflation so low.”
Pethokoukis is also quick to point out a period of similar pessimism and fear that was present in American politics during the 1980’s, with fears of Japanese expansion similar to that of China’s today. He said the key economic advantage of the United States, its entrepreneurial market, has remained intact and vibrant, allowing for greater economic recovery and success than our European counterparts.
The United States has consistently experienced greater economic growth than Europe; it maintains earnings per capita significantly higher than that of the largest economies of Europe, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, and unemployment is significantly lower. This hard data, however, does not completely disprove the fears of the American conservative for the future.
Although the specific fears propagated by Donald Trump, such as immigration, poor trade deals abroad, and too much involvement in foreign wars, may each have their own nuances to them, the fears of the Republican party have remained consistently abstract. Pethokoukis mentions the American ability to innovate, as the key to its economic flexibility path past and present, and Republicans have historically reciprocated this. Capitalism, the system in which an entrepreneur invests in a business venture and profits from the success they create, is the lifeblood that keeps public funding available and American wages rising at a faster rate than the socialist counterparts in Europe.
Although a strong capitalist economy something often regarded as invincible, it does not withstand social anxieties perpetuated in conservative circles. Republicans increasingly see their country shift from their self-reliant capitalist ideal to the left-wing would-be utopia of social engineering. With programs such as universal healthcare to state involvement in the religious definition of “marriage”, it is easy to see an ideological divide is forming within the country that allows for apocalyptic interpretation.
Although a strong capitalist economy something often regarded as invincible, it does not withstand social anxieties perpetuated in conservative circles. Republicans increasingly see their country shift from their self-reliant capitalist ideal to the left-wing would-be utopia of social engineering.
A study conducted by Harvard University has found that 51 percent of people aged 18 to 29 do not support capitalism, while as many as 33 percent said they supported socialism as an alternative. For a party that prides itself on the free market, these numbers are terrifying, and certainly a potential harbinger of the end times of capitalism or America is a whole.
Even if the specific fears of any one institution may be unwarranted, as prosperity has continued to allow for borrowing by the American government to pay for social programs without default, the foundation of American prosperity has been brought into greater question by the American conservative’s worldview.