Ann McFeatters: As Reagan famously asked, 'Are you better off today than you were four years ago?'

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With the national election two months away and tightening, we should go back exactly 40 years ago for the question that will help many Americans decide which presidential candidate to choose.

“Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

It was a tight race between incumbent Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan as summer ended in 1980. And then Reagan asked the memorable question that won him the election as millions of voters concluded, resoundingly, that no, they weren’t better off under Carter than they had been before he was elected.

In 2020, millions who are followers of Donald Trump will not bother with the question. He’s their man, full of flaws that he is; they will not admit they have been misled. An equal or even slightly larger number can’t stand the man, considering him an immoral fraud and authoritarian con artist.

But for many in the middle, the question is of utmost importance and should be explored.

There are four areas of life involved in that question: Health, wealth, security and culture.

With over 185,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 in a worldwide pandemic, everyone is affected in one way or another. Those who have not lost a loved one or contracted the virus are worried about getting the virus and keeping loved ones safe.

Trump dismisses the virus as no longer important, yesterday’s news. But infectious disease experts remain worried, hoping vaccines will be the answer but clearly upset at the mistakes made in the United States that made everything worse.

At least 100,000 businesses have closed forever as a result of the pandemic, 30 million Americans have lost their jobs and cash-strapped cities are laying off first responders. Millions of families certainly are not better off than they were when Trump took office. Even before the pandemic, the economy grew faster under Barack Obama than it has under Trump.

Security is the issue on which Trump hopes to win, reprising Richard Nixon’s “law and order” mantra during the anti-Vietnam War protests. Trump argues that the national wave of revulsion against systemic racism and the deaths of Blacks at the hands of police officers have been co-opted by lawless criminals. And there is no doubt that looters and vandals have taken advantage of the largely peaceful protests against police violence. Everyone should be appalled at all violence.

But “law and order” is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Racism is not partisan. Violence is as prevalent in GOP-led cities as in Democratic-led cities. Murders are up since the pandemic began, largely because of domestic abuse, but crime overall is down.

Democrats are convinced Trump is a racist inciting violence. His history is of being sued by the federal government for refusing to rent properties in New York to Blacks. Trump’s comparison of a white police officer shooting a Black man in the back seven times inches from his three children to “choking” over a golf putt is astonishingly awful.

Trump’s defense of a 17-year-old gun-toting vigilante and Trump supporter who crossed state lines to kill two protesters is indefensible.

Even if that does not bother some, how in the name of law and order are they not upset that so many of Trump’s close associates have run into serious legal trouble and that corruption is rampant in his administration?

When we talk about cultural issues, we are basically talking about guns, the environment and the anti-abortion movement. Nobody is talking about taking away Americans’ guns; Democrats want to make it harder for those who shouldn’t have guns to get them.

If you are against a woman’s right ever to consider an abortion for any reason and that is the most important issue for you, then you will again vote for Trump and his anti-choice judges.

But if you are a broader pro-life supporter, you must wonder why Trump has cut benefits such as food stamps for poor families while giving a huge tax cut to the wealthy, why 20% of children are hungry, why he continues to cage children taken from their parents, why he did not excoriate Russia over offering bounties for dead American soldiers, why he can’t express compassion over rising coronavirus deaths, why homeless children are squatting in front of a Taco Bell to gain internet access so they can learn, why as an act of patriotism he won’t mask up.

If you want Earth to be safe, why would you reelect a climate change and science denier, who unquestionably has weakened or thrown out regulations to protect air and water?

When you think about whether you are better off than in 2016, take into account your country’s reputation. Around the world, Trump is ridiculed for lying 20,000 times and flagrant narcissism. We are pitied, and our passports are worthless.

For four years this has been Trump’s America. Are you better off because of that?



Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at


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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden waves as he arrives at an event venue on Sept. 2, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden said he would visit Kenosha, Wisconsin. - Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/TNS