In “Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever” Mr. Kristof says that for much of humanity, things keep getting better. Mr. Bruni, in “The President Who Buried Humility,” says Donald Trump’s inauguration heralds a new age of arrogance and says something sad and scary. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
There’s a broad consensus that the world is falling apart, with every headline reminding us that life is getting worse.
Except that it isn’t. In fact, by some important metrics, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity. And 2017 will probably be better still.
How can this be? I’m as appalled as anyone by the election of Donald Trump, the bloodshed in Syria, and so on. But while I fear what Trump will do to America and the world, and I applaud those standing up to him, the Trump administration isn’t the most important thing going on. Here, take my quiz:
On any given day, the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty:
A.) Rises by 5,000, because of climate change, food shortages and endemic corruption.
B.) Stays about the same.
C.) Drops by 250,000.
Polls show that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same. But in fact, the correct answer is C. Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.
Or if you need more of a blast of good news, consider this: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion, diarrhea treatment and more. If just about the worst thing that can happen is for a parent to lose a child, that’s only half as likely today as in 1990.
When I began writing about global poverty in the early 1980s, more than 40 percent of all humans were living in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 10 percent are. By 2030 it looks as if just 3 or 4 percent will be. (Extreme poverty is defined as less than $1.90 per person per day, adjusted for inflation.)
For nearly all of human history, extreme poverty has been the default condition of our species, and now, on our watch, we are pretty much wiping it out. That’s a stunning transformation that I believe is the most important thing happening in the world today — whatever the news from Washington.
There will, of course, be continued poverty of a less extreme kind, smaller numbers of children will continue to die unnecessarily, and inequality remains immense. Oxfam calculated this month that just eight rich men own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.
Yet global income inequality is actually declining. While income inequality has increased within the U.S., it has declined on a global level because China and India have lifted hundreds of millions from poverty.
All this may seem distant or irrelevant at a time when many Americans are traumatized by Trump’s inauguration. But let me try to reassure you, along with myself.
On a recent trip to Madagascar to report on climate change, I was struck that several mothers I interviewed had never heard of Trump, or of Barack Obama, or even of the United States. Their obsession was more desperate: keeping their children alive. And the astonishing thing was that those children, despite severe malnutrition, were all alive, because of improvements in aid and health care — reflecting trends that are grander than any one man.
Some of the most remarkable progress has been over diseases that — thank God! — Americans very rarely encounter. Elephantiasis is a horrible, disfiguring, humiliating disease usually caused by a parasite, leading a person’s legs to expand hugely until they resemble an elephant’s. In men, the disease can make the scrotum swell to grotesque proportions, so that when they walk they must carry their scrotum on a homemade wheelbarrow.
Yet some 40 countries are now on track to eliminate elephantiasis. When you’ve seen the anguish caused by elephantiasis — or leprosy, or Guinea worm, or polio, or river blindness, or blinding trachoma — it’s impossible not to feel giddy at the gains registered against all of them.
There’s similar progress in empowering women and in reducing illiteracy. Until the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate; now, 85 percent of adults are literate. And almost nothing makes more difference in a society than being able to read and write.
Michael Elliott, who died last year after leading the One Campaign, which battles poverty, used to say that we are living in an “age of miracles.” He was right, yet the progress is still too slow, and a basic question is whether President Trump will continue bipartisan U.S. efforts to fight global poverty. A four-page questionnaire from the Trump team to the State Department seems to suggest doubts about the value of humanitarian aid.
One reason for the Trump team’s skepticism may be the belief that global poverty is hopeless, that nothing makes a difference. So let’s keep perspective. Yes, Trump may cause enormous damage to America and the world in the coming years, and by all means we should challenge him at every turn. But when the headlines make me sick, I soothe myself with the reflection that there are forces in the world that are larger than Trump, and that in the long history of humanity, this still will likely be the very best year yet.
Remember: The most important thing happening is not a Trump tweet. What’s infinitely more important is that today some 18,000 children who in the past would have died of simple diseases will survive, about 300,000 people will gain electricity and a cool 250,000 will graduate from extreme poverty.
And now here’s Mr. Bruni:
The word popped up in the opening sentence of Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address and in the opening paragraphs of George W. Bush’s.
“Humbled,” each man said of himself, and while it was pure cliché, it was also what we wanted and needed: a sign, no matter how rote, that even someone self-assured enough to pursue the presidency was taking the measure of that responsibility and asking if he was worthy of it.
Does that question cross Donald Trump’s mind?
I don’t think so. I certainly didn’t get that sense from his inaugural remarks, and not just because “humbled” went missing. As he stood just feet from four of the last six presidents, he trashed them, talking about a Washington establishment blind and deaf to the struggles of less fortunate Americans.
He characterized his election as part of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen.” Forget about his loss of the popular vote. Or his 40 percent favorability rating. Or the puny crowd at his inauguration in comparison with the throngs at Obama’s eight years ago. Trump remained a singular man on a singular mission — a legend in his own mind.
We’ve already become so accustomed to his egomania that we sometimes forget how remarkable it is. He’s a braggart beyond his predecessors in the Oval Office, and that says something sad and scary about the country that elected him and the kind of leader he’s likely to be. With Trump we enter a new age of arrogance. He’s the cock crowing at its dawn.
His first stop after arriving here on Thursday afternoon for the inaugural festivities was his recently opened hotel, a transformation of the Old Post Office. He pronounced its principal ballroom “gorgeous” and declared that “a total genius must have built this place.” He was referring to himself.
Then, talking about his nominees for top administration jobs, he said: “We have, by far, the highest I.Q. of any cabinet ever assembled.” That’s obviously unknowable. But it’s entirely in keeping with his nonstop insistence that everything about him is magical, epochal, amazing.
As he went through the traditional inaugural paces, he toggled between the dignified bearing expected of a man in his role and the coarse bravado that he prefers.
His remarks to his supporters at the Lincoln Memorial early Thursday evening included the assertion that his victory was really theirs. “You had much more to do with it than I did,” he told them. “I’m just the messenger.”
But then he recited, for perhaps the thousandth time, how emphatically he defied so many pundits’ predictions and how huge his rallies were. He has indulged this tangent so repeatedly that Politico recently published a story with the headline “Trump Can’t Stop Talking About How He Won.”
And while he kept his remarks at the inauguration brief and said “you” and “we” much more often than “I,” that’s exactly why they were so flaccid. To find his full voice, he must be singing his own praises.
It was a dark speech, bemoaning “this American carnage” of gangs and drugs. It was a mean speech, insulting every one of his new colleagues by describing politicians as “all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.”
But mostly it was a flat speech, bereft of the poetry that this tense juncture called for. He used pared-down language, simple sentences and a sluggish delivery, as if he were reading to children. Call it the “Goodnight Moon” of Inaugural Addresses.
He does as he pleases, expectations be damned, and indeed the most striking aspect of Trump’s transition was an absence of humility. Although he owed his Electoral College win to just 77,000 votes in three states, and it was clouded by questions about James Comey and the Russians, he didn’t bother much with outreach to adversaries or appeals for unity.
He put together that high-I.Q. team of his with few of the usual courtesies and considerations. None of his cabinet nominees are Democrats. None is Latino. Only one, Ben Carson, his choice for housing secretary, is black.
Many are billionaires or bigmouths whose outsize vanity mirrors Trump’s. Rick Perry came to his assignment as energy secretary from a stint on “Dancing With the Stars.” Carson’s palatial Maryland home has been described as a gaudy shrine to … Ben Carson, with plaques that honor him and photographs that glamorize him on prominent display.
Every president in my lifetime has been conceited. It’s more or less a job requirement. Bush had a bloated faith in his gut and his charm, while Obama fancied himself the smartest, most soulful person in almost any room.
But they were nothing like Trump, who’s a preening cartoon. He brags like he breathes. It’s autonomic. And he gloats the way our parents and teachers always told us not to.
But that admonition predated Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Social media have blurred the line between sharing and showing off, and they’ve turned self-promotion into a tic. In our private and our professional lives, we’re prodded to burnish our images, to advertise our assets, to sell, sell, sell. Is it any wonder, then, that we looked up on Friday to see, in front of the Capitol, taking the oath of office, a gaudy confidence man who’s all about the sale? Is it any accident?
His campaign was an unprecedented orgy of self-congratulation. At the start of almost every rally, he trumpeted his poll numbers, and I don’t mean a few quick bleats — I mean a vulgar music that could go on for minutes. At the conclusion of almost every debate, he announced how brilliantly he’d done.
When he stepped up to a microphone to introduce Mike Pence as his running mate, he seemed to forget all about him, and instead paid tribute to himself in a rambling soliloquy more than 20 minutes long. He didn’t stick around onstage for Pence’s remarks.
At the Republican National Convention, warning of national decline, he thundered, “I alone can fix it.” And in the months before and after, he complimented himself out loud and lavishly on everything from the magnitude of his wealth to the majesty of his phallus. That might have disqualified him in another era, but Americans stomached it. More than that, they rewarded it, proving that ours is a different moment, with different mores.
Trump took credit for a drop in the television viewership for pro football: He was providing a superior spectacle. When the ratings for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger were revealed, he tweeted that they paled next to those for the original “Apprentice,” which starred “the ratings machine, DJT.”
Presidential? Hah! But neither was the tweet that wished a “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”
It’s staggering, and it’s endless. During his only real news conference as president-elect, he mused that he could master the management of the country and of his business simultaneously, noting that while the law bars other government officials from such double duty, there’s no such formal restriction on the president.
“I would be the only one that would be able to do that,” he said. “I could run the Trump Organization — great, great company — and I could run the country. I’d do a very good job.” It was like a Russian nesting doll of self-infatuation: boast within boast within boast.
If Trump and his tribe were humble or humbled, they wouldn’t have been caught trying to monetize his political currency, as when one of his sons peddled coffee with Ivanka or when her company hawked copies of the dress she wore at the convention and the jewelry she flashed on “60 Minutes.”
The Trumps are extreme, but they’re also emblematic of a creeping crassness and lack of restraint in public life. I think of the North Carolina Republicans who gallingly moved to dilute the governorship’s power before it could change hands from someone in their party to a Democrat.
I think of an interview that Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader, recently gave to New York magazine’s Jason Zengerle as he prepared to retire from the Senate. “I’ve done stuff no one else will do,” Reid volunteered, and then recalled — proudly, it seemed — the time during the 2012 presidential campaign when he falsely accused Mitt Romney of not having paid taxes. There was no modesty in that lie, and there’s no modesty in his apparent peace with it.
Still, he’s no Trump. Who is? Maybe Howard Roark, the protagonist of “The Fountainhead,” by Ayn Rand. Roark must defend his creative genius against the meddling of lesser mortals. Trump once described the novel as profound.
He has other Rand fans around him. Last month, The Washington Post’s James Hohmann identified a batch of cabinet nominees, including Rex Tillerson, who are taken with her philosophy and work.
What does that bode for the coming months? We’ve seen hints in the past ones. Under fire, Trump rages, rails and frequently doubles down on his convictions and even his fictions. He rearranges reality to suit his self-regard, flinging accusations of “rigged” surveys and “fake news.”
A humbler man would doubt himself, extend an olive branch to his enemies, contemplate a middle ground. But then a humbler man wouldn’t have come down that escalator at Trump Tower and proceed to say what Trump said and do what he did. As I watched him flourish, I watched humility die. On Friday, our 45th president said its last rites.