Strong communities and families, well-paying jobs, and industrial power—those are three key foundations to America’s success, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. America was at its best when it had all three, but “all of them have been undermined,” the Florida Republican says.
According to Rubio, after the Cold War, America’s leaders thought all nations were moving toward democracy and being “consumers and investors in a global market.” But things have not gone as anticipated, and the result has been “the deindustrialization of America, the Rust Belt, [and] the loss of good-paying jobs,” he says.
In his new book “Decades of Decadence: How Our Spoiled Elites Blew America’s Inheritance of Liberty, Security, and Prosperity,” Rubio explains a path forward to restoring America’s key foundations.
Rubio joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the moment in history in which America finds itself and how we can begin to decrease dependence on China.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: “Decades of Decadence: How Our Spoiled Elites Blew America’s Inheritance of Liberty, Security, and Prosperity.” That is the title of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s brand new book. And the book, it really focuses on exposing the elite’s attack on four key elements of American strength. First, good local jobs, then stable families, geographical communities, and a sovereign nation that serves as a beacon of freedom and prosperity. And author Sen. Marco Rubio, he joins us now to talk about this book.
Senator, thank you so much for being here.
Sen. Marco Rubio: Thank you. Thanks for covering it.
Allen: Well, this is a really important topic. And this book, in many ways, it calls on the American people to remember that the foundation of our American society is strong families. I know that that’s something that you feel very strongly about. Your own parents actually migrated to America, really lived out that American dream. They came to America in the 1950s, correct?
Rubio: That’s correct. 1956. But I had a bunch of uncles, aunts, family that came throughout the early 60s, obviously fleeing communism in Cuba. So it’s ingrained in our experience and in many ways is what I build my whole vision, what I think America is at its best and part of the problems that we’re facing now.
Allen: Well, let’s dive in and talk about some of those problems. You recount in the book how different the America was that your parents came to experience in the 1950s versus how different the America is that we’re seeing today. I don’t think anyone would deny that, that America looks pretty different today than it did in the 1950s. But walk us through what some of those key differences are.
Rubio: Well, first, I think the one thing I could tell you, and despite all of our divisions, most Americans would say there’s something wrong. There’s something wrong in America. It doesn’t feel right. And people can then fill in the blank and tell you what it is they think is wrong. But there’s something wrong in America.
And what I try to do, and then I talk about in this book, is sort of explain the big picture of what it is, what’s this disease that we’re dealing with. And that’s why I talk about what America used to look like.
This is not some effort to say we need to go back to the 1960s and ’70s and look like that. You can’t go back to the past. The future is inevitable. It’s going to happen. But what were the foundations of when America’s been at its best?
The first is it’s been strong communities and strong families. You can’t be a strong country without those things, period. And there’s only so much we can do in government to strengthen families and communities, but there’s a lot we can do to undermine them. And we have.
The second is what supports strong families and communities is good-paying jobs. Economic growth, wealth, prosperity, all of these are good things. I’m not a socialist. I’m certainly not a communist. I don’t think it’s evil to make money, but I also think you have to, as a policymaker, your economy doesn’t just have to produce wealth, it has to produce opportunity. It has to produce good-paying jobs, which is what allows someone to get married, have children, be a member of a community, and feel stable in their lives.
The third is you can’t be a great power if you’re not an industrial power. You have to be able to make things. And no matter how innovative you are, if you can’t make it, if you depend on someone else for the most important things in your life—medicine, food, your armaments—you’re in a lot of trouble. I think history has borne that out over and over again.
These are all important things. All of them have been undermined. Why? Because at the end of the Cold War, the smartest people in the country and both parties said, “History’s over. From now on, everyone’s going to be a democracy. Everyone’s going to be a free enterprise market economy. Nation state won’t matter anymore because we’re all going to be consumers and investors in a global market. In essence, we’ll be citizens of the world, and there won’t be any fights among countries anymore because they’ll be making too much money off each other to get into war.”
Well, all that was a delusion. It all ignores 5,500 years of recorded human history. It ignores everything we know about human nature. China and Russia didn’t believe that. Iran doesn’t believe that. Other countries don’t believe that, but we did.
But when you believe that, now you start making public policy, not on the basis of what’s in the best interest of America, but what’s in the best interest of that new world order, of that global economy, of that global citizenry, whatever it may be. You start making decisions on that basis. And the result is what we face today. And that is the deindustrialization of America, the Rust Belt, the loss of good-paying jobs.
To not belabor the point, but as that was going on, we had a second movement going on in America, initially unrelated, and that was that all of these fundamental truths that are built on common sense, that biological gender is real, the argument that America from a race standpoint is worse off today than it was in the 1960s and is inherently evil and it’s built on these evil structures—you name it, down the list you go—that family was not as important, … we could actually raise kids through social media in our schools.
That movement was growing and it was producing people from higher education that were graduating. They were taking low-level jobs at corporations and big institutions. Then they became mid-level managers. Now they’re the CEOs and in charge of the marketing department and they destroy Anheuser-Busch and things like that.
So these two movements have now sort of intersected. They’re now operating in conjunction with each other. Because if you’re a big multi-global corporation and you don’t think being American is important, you’re a global company, you’re going to do whatever it takes to keep those people happy.
You’ll create a [diversity, equity, and inclusion office], you’ll go along with their agenda, whatever it may be, because all you’re interested in is making money globally and you don’t need the hassle. Or maybe your CEO believes this stuff because they were produced by the system.
The reverse is true on the other side. It’s now gone from an argument in favor of what they claim to be social justice and equity to a hysteria that basically allows us not just to ignore common sense, but to live in the world of fantasy, to pretend that some guy on a stage getting a medal for winning a competition against women is not a man. They insist, we pretend. And if you don’t pretend, then you’re a hater and a bigot, and so forth.
So these two have now intersected and it creates a cultural and social crisis in our country that I think really threatens our future if we don’t correct it.
Allen: We can’t have this conversation without talking about China. And you take a good amount of time in the book to talk about the influence that China has had on America’s economy and specifically on American’s ability to get jobs. You go all the way back to about 20 years ago when China joined the World Trade Organization, the implications that that had. What were Americans thinking? What was the world thinking would be the result when China entered the World Trade Organization?
Rubio: Well, we know what we were thinking because you can see it in the words of President George H.W. Bush, who, by the way, I have tremendous admiration for as a person, as a man, and many of the things he did do. Probably one of the most qualified people to ever become president.
But he said something that proved not to be true, which is, if we open up to China, we’re going to export our values. That, in essence, if we went ahead and fully invested in China, it would change China. And ignoring that that is a very ancient civilization and they have a very strong communist party that runs the country. [President] Bill Clinton said the same things. We’re not just exporting our goods, we’re exporting our values.
I think when you read those words and hear those words in hindsight, 20, 30 years later, they sound ridiculous. That’s not the way it turned out. And we should have known that.
And here’s basically our approach toward China. China can make anything they want and sell anything they want in America. We, on the other hand, can’t do the same over there. We have to do it based on their conditions. They can do anything they want here, but we can’t do anything over there unless they give us permission.
And so the Chinese said, “Well, that’s a good deal. We’ll take it.” And initially they got away with it because everybody’s like, “Don’t worry, they’re poor. They’re just a developing country. Once China gets rich and powerful, they’ll become just like us.”
Then we wake up around 2015 and realize, “Oh my God. China’s rich, China’s powerful, and they’re not just like us.” And it all came at our expense.
If you track the numbers from 2001 when they joined the World Trade Organization, literally the job and industrial capacity losses, the factories we lost, the jobs we lost in America can be evenly tracked to the jobs that were gained in the factories, that were gained in China.
We literally took our industrial base and those jobs and sent it over there because it was more efficient. The market says it’s more efficient to make things over there. I agree. It is. It’s cheaper. It’s cheaper to make it there than it is to make it here for a lot of reasons.
But I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves now. Generally, we want to go in the free market approach because that’s what I am and that’s what we are. But what if the free market outcome is not good for America? Because it is more efficient, the market says, to make medicine in China. Is it in our national interest to depend on them for 88% of our pharmaceuticals? I think the answer’s pretty obvious.
So I think that’s the point we are at now where we realize that when you make policy decisions, it can’t just be based on the market. It has to be based on the market, but also on what’s in the best interest of the country. And there are times where the pure market outcome is not just not in our best interest, it is hostile to America’s best interest.
Allen: I was very fascinated by something that you wrote in Chapter 3. You say, “China’s continued growth is inevitable and not something America should try to stop.” Walk me through that.
Rubio: Well, I think there’s a distinction there. The first is, China is a large country, most populous nation on Earth, has been a great power before, more isolated from the world than they’re engaging now, but nonetheless.
I think the real point is, we shouldn’t allow their rise to come at our expense and we shouldn’t allow their rise to be entirely built on what they take from us, in essence.
Because here’s what’s going to happen. An imbalance will develop. If we live in a world in which an imbalance develops between the U.S. and China, we’re going to have a conflict. We’re going to have a war. We’re going to have something much more serious.
So an ideal outcome is not that China suddenly collapses and becomes some Third World country. I don’t think that’s what any of us aspire. But we can’t allow China to become powerful at our expense or to find themselves in a position of dominance over us and the rest of the world.
A lot of it has to do with us.
The Chinese are going to do with the Chinese are going to do. Because unlike our leaders for 30 years, Chinese leaders are acting in the best interest of China. We need to start acting in the best interest of America. If we do that, then I think we’re going to be able to protect our way of life, offer the world a counterbalance to China, and continue to be the most influential. Because I have faith in our system over theirs.
But if we somehow play this game where they’re playing to win and we’re just playing to get along, we’re going to lose that game. They’re going to win that game. And the world’s going to look very different. It already is starting to. We’re running out of time to get that equation.
Allen: So what does that look like practically moving forward? I’m thinking about just the sheer amount of debt that we owe to China, the amount of money that have we borrow. The American economy is so intertwined with China. How do we start to pull that apart?
Rubio: Well, I think part of it that interdependency has to do with our industrial capability.
So, for example, there’s this hysteria now about more solar panels and more electric cars. Well, we invented the batteries, we invented those solar panels. The problem is the Chinese make them and they control their rare earth minerals around the world because they either have contract rights or they have them in China. They corner that market. So here’s something we invented and they now control. So it’s just one more.
But beyond that, I would tell you that whether it’s pharmaceuticals or the heavy equipment—the Chinese put out a plan called “Made in China 2025,” and they literally outlined, “These are the 10 industries we’re going to dominate in the 21st century.” That’s a great road map for us to follow in the reverse.
So whether it’s biomedicine, whether it’s heavy machinery and industrial capacity, whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s the ability to build our own weaponry, you name it—you go to technology and telecommunications, aerospace—we need to have either an industrial capacity that’s here in America or an allied capacity, meaning it’s not in America, but it’s in Australia, or it’s in combination with the U.K. or NATO and Indo-Pacific allies and the like.
You’ve seen some movement in that direction. But that has to continue and it has to be accelerated.
So we can no longer be in a position where China, in a time of conflict, be it military conflict or diplomatic geopolitical conflict, can threaten to cut us off.
They already do that. They’re doing it to Lithuania, they’re doing it to Czechia, they’ve done it to Australia, where they cut these countries off of something they basically badly need to punish them for some policy move.
We cannot find ourselves in that position, and that’s why we have to rebuild industrial capacity in key sectors in this country or have an allied industrial capacity.
Allen: And in growing that industrial capacity, to what extent does the government need to be involved? And then, to what extent do we need to have private companies start to move away from that close relationship with government?
Rubio: Well, the work has to be done by private companies. I don’t believe we should have U.S.-run factories or U.S.-run automakers or U.S.-run aerospace companies and the like. I do think that we have to prioritize these industries as a matter of government policy.
And that’s not unique. If you go back to the 1980s when the Japanese who were, in hindsight, weren’t trying to overtake the world, but they threatened to dominate the personal computing market and technology, and [President] Ronald Reagan had to take steps to keep that from happening. That, actually, in addition to creating our own industry here, allowed it to spread to these other countries in Asia and diversified that he didn’t want to have one country dominating this industry.
I think we have to have an industrial policy that reflects that.
Now, here are the dangers of industrial policy. No. 1, it can’t be built on who hires the best lobbyists to convince you that their industry is a key industry for the future. We have to clearly define what are those key industries.
No. 2, it has to be done the right way. I’ll give you an example. I was one of the early supporters of this notion that we have to be able to make semiconductors, those chips, in the United States. So you would think I would’ve voted for the CHIPS Act, which is what they called it, and ultimately passed it.
Do you know why I didn’t? I didn’t because in the end, that bill, though it’s called the CHIPS Act, and though they say, “Yes, it’s going to help the semiconductor industry in America,” it allows these private companies to get billions of dollars of federal money and still keep building semiconductors in China, which to me is ridiculous.
And the second is, when I tried to say, “OK, we’re going to spend billions on this. Shouldn’t we increase our level of security to protect what we’re doing because we know the Chinese steal what we’re doing now?” And they fought me and they said, “No, we don’t want more restrictions,” because the people doing the research want to continue to collaborate with Chinese researchers and so forth.
So in essence, if we’re going to pass industrial policy like that, then might as well not do it at all because we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. So that’s the danger of it.
But it has to be through private companies. We already have industrial policy. Our defense contracting industry. Boeing is a great private company and they make planes for American Airlines and Delta and everybody else. But Boeing doesn’t exist without the Department of Defense.
And the reason why is because America made a decision. We always have to be able to make our own planes. We can’t depend on China or some other country for our airplanes. We have to be able to make our own airplanes. Same with the shipbuilding industry.
So I’d like to see there be more people in the defense contracting world, more companies so they have more competition and better pricing. So we already have industrial policy. It just has to be targeted in the appropriate way to meet the needs and the challenges of this new century.
Allen: Senator, you end your book, really, with a question for Americans, that we are at this moment of choosing—what’s our path forward here and what is the choice that lays before Americans?
Rubio: Well, we have two choices. The first is we can continue to be distracted by trivial things, in essence. And that’s one of the things I fear about.
I’m not calling our social fights trivial or anything of that nature, but as an example, look, my personal view of the world is the following. I don’t care what people decide, what adults do in their own lives. Free country, go do whatever you want. I don’t think that you have a right to turn the country upside down. I don’t think that 0.5% of our population has a right to change the rules for everybody else or use our schools to indoctrinate children on gender ideology and things of that nature. So that’s problematic.
But the second problem is that while we’re focused on all this stuff and we’re fighting over all these things, and these people want to turn our schools, and government agencies are opening up entire DEI divisions, we’re not focusing on their core missions.
So why is the military spending so much time focused on these DEI issues instead of focusing on China trying to blow up our aircraft carriers and dominate the Indo-Pacific region?
I would say the same for our spy agencies. I would say in the same for all of our government agencies. They should be focused on that.
It’s not like we’re crushing it in world standards on education and math, science, technology, but yet our schools are so focused on this cultural stuff and DEI and indoctrination. They need to be more focused on the emergency we have in this country about the very basic and elemental skills that you need to be successful in our economy. It is distracting us from our core mission.
That’s part of that decadence, this notion that for 30 years we were the most powerful and only superpower. We could do whatever we wanted. We had the luxury of being decadent. We had the luxury of being complacent. We don’t have that luxury anymore, and we need to really move on it very quickly because we’ve already wasted too much time. We don’t have another 10 years to figure this out. In 10 years, some of this becomes at least irreversible for a generation, if not longer.
Allen: Senator, thank you. The book is “Decades of Decadence.” Thank you so much for your time. We truly appreciate it.
Rubio: Thank you. Thanks for covering this.
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