To paraphrase Karl Marx: A specter is haunting America. It is not communism. Nor is it democratic socialism. Instead it is failed and failing government. And this failure is the fault of we the people who elect the leaders we deserve.
Congress is hopelessly deadlocked on the most important issues. Yes, Congress did pass tax cuts. Yes, the economy grew at about 4 percent last quarter. But the national debt swells with annual deficits approaching $1 trillion. When interest rates go higher, which they will, to quote Lenin, "what is to be done?"
Donald Trump is a symptom of failed government, not the cause, although some of his actions ultimately could prove hugely destructive. The tax cuts and zealous repeal of regulations along with declaring war on our allies over tariffs and NATO spending and treating adversaries as friends, particularly North Korea and Russia, will prove specters that will indeed haunt America. Abrogating the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that, if followed, would permanently prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons were sheer folly and a churlish and vindictive rejection of Obama administration achievements.
Republicans need to grow backbones to curb the irrationality of governing by tweet and by insult so favored by Trump. However, the absolute nightmare of becoming a minority in Congress is so motivating that given the choice of conscience versus control, Republicans will support the president. The Democrats are no better.
Hillary Clinton could be seen as a Metternich or a Jefferson when compared with Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren who are seeking the top ticket. Tragically, as the Republicans have broken their spines in lurching so far right, Democrats have induced whiplash to muddle their brains in turning so sharply left. The majority of Americans who are of the center are disenfranchised. Welcome to American politics.
After the losing the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 that turned the tide of the American Revolution against Britain, the famous Scots economist Adam Smith was approached by a student muttering; "Burgoyne defeated. We are ruined." To which Smith replied, "My boy, there is a lot of ruin in a nation." That may well be true.
The United States survived a fragile infancy; a civil war; two world wars; a great depression; the threat of nuclear annihilation; absolute defeat in Vietnam; and catastrophe in Iraq and Afghanistan. It did win both world wars and a cold one. But since then, victory has been elusive. And now the Trump administration seems to have forgotten the lessons of conducting multifront wars and taken to heart Jack Kennedy's quip that the only thing worse than being an enemy of the United States was being an ally.
Supporters of the president remain unshaken, convinced that no matter how reprehensible Trump's personal conduct may be, he is disrupting the status quo. And in the minds of some 1/4 to 1/3 of Americans, that is worthy of a second term. That democracy could have descended to this level might have convinced the Founding Fathers that leaving Britain was a bad idea.
We have rising debt. An obscene number of Americans are living close to poverty. Many do not have an additional several hundreds of dollars for emergencies. Disparities between the top 1 percent and the rest are growing. Infrastructure is failing. Education certainly at the K-12 grades needs reform and college is often unaffordable. Healthcare, likewise, is beyond the financial reach of many. And retirement? What happens when Social Security cannot cope with the increasing numbers of elderly Americans?
Unless Special Counsel Robert Mueller produces a smoking howitzer, Republicans will nominate Trump in 2020. Unless Democrats come up with a feasible and supportable platform, as well as a candidate of the middle and not the extreme left, Mar a Lago will still be only a winter retreat for the Trump family. Worse, the corruption or arrogance or extreme naïveté of this administration will continue.
Thus far, Trump has not made any catastrophic blunders -- yet. We have not stumbled into another Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. For the moment, on the surface, the economy looks good. But make no mistake. Adam Smith was half right. There is only so much ruin a nation can endure.
Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is Senior Adviser at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.