’I think the rest of the world will never see us quite the same’. That’s how Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, views the consequences of the Trump presidency. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) amplifies:
This struck a chord with me, because I think about it all the time.
As we discussed last summer, after Trump announced his rejection of the Paris climate accords, this presidency will end, perhaps in three years, at which point many Americans and their new president will turn to the world and declare with pride, “Don’t worry, Trump is gone. The fluke is over. You can trust us again. The United States is back and the American president can lead the free world anew.”
But at that point, many around the world will probably choose not to listen. They’ll realize that the United States is capable of electing someone like Trump to the nation’s highest office, and there’s no guarantee that Americans won’t make a similar decision again in the future. People around the globe will have no way of knowing when the electorate might elect someone else of Trump’s ilk.
And with that lack of confidence comes consequences.
When Trump’s successors, for example, try to reach international agreements, and make promises to our partners about the United States honoring its commitments, foreign officials will know that a Trump-like figure might come along, take office, and decide to betray those commitments.
America will struggle to lead because Trump will have left a stain on our global standing that will be difficult to remove. We’ll want to regain the trust we had earned from much of the world, but how long that might take is unclear.
What Scriber thinks about “all the time” is the question: To whom will foreign officials turn to in a post-Trump era of uncertainty about America? One answer is China. Read on.
Making China Great Again. New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos writes a stunning, comprehensive essay about the shifting balance of global influence. “As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.” I might add, yearning to pick up the pieces would be a better way to describe China’s ascendancy.
China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. Ever since the Second World War, the United States has advocated an international order based on a free press and judiciary, human rights, free trade, and protection of the environment. It planted those ideas in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and spread them with alliances around the world. In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”
Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. …
In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal … Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.”
For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.
Thanks to Donald Trump and his acquiescent GOP lackeys. Trump: "As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.”
China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.
And China has embarked on history’s most expensive foreign infrastructure plan. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, it is building bridges, railways, and ports in Asia, Africa, and beyond. If the initiative’s cost reaches a trillion dollars, as predicted, it will be more than seven times that of the Marshall Plan, which the U.S. launched in 1947, spending a hundred and thirty billion, in today’s dollars, on rebuilding postwar Europe.
… for decades, China has relied on protectionism—but Trump provided an irresistible opening. China is negotiating with at least sixteen countries to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade zone that excludes the United States, which it proposed in 2012 as a response to the T.P.P. If the deal is signed next year, as projected, it will create the world’s largest trade bloc, by population.
By some measures, the U.S. will remain dominant for years to come. It has at least twelve aircraft carriers. China has two. The U.S. has collective defense treaties with more than fifty countries. China has one, with North Korea. Moreover, China’s economic path is complicated by heavy debts, bloated state-owned enterprises, rising inequality, and slowing growth. The workers who once powered China’s boom are graying. China’s air, water, and soil are disastrously polluted.
Trump is China’s “biggest strategic opportunity”
And yet the gap has narrowed. In 2000, the U.S. accounted for thirty-one per cent of the global economy, and China accounted for four per cent. Today, the U.S.’s share is twenty-four per cent and China’s fifteen per cent. If its economy surpasses America’s in size, as experts predict, it will be the first time in more than a century that the world’s largest economy belongs to a non-democratic country. At that point, China will play a larger role in shaping, or thwarting, values such as competitive elections, freedom of expression, and an open Internet. Already, the world has less confidence in America than we might guess. Last year, the Pew Research Center asked people in thirty-seven countries which leader would do the right thing when it came to world affairs. They chose Xi Jinping over Donald Trump, twenty-eight per cent to twenty-two per cent.
On his recent visit to Washington, Prime Minister Lee, of Singapore, said that the rest of the world can no longer pretend to ignore the contrasts between American and Chinese leadership. “Since the war, you’ve held the peace. You’ve provided security. You’ve opened your markets. You’ve developed links across the Pacific,” he said. “And now, with a rising set of players on the west coast of the Pacific, where does America want to go? Do you want to be engaged?” He went on, “If you are not there, then everybody else in the world will look around and say, I want to be friends with both the U.S. and the Chinese—and the Chinese are ready, and I’ll start with them.”
China’s leaders rarely air their views about an American President, but well-connected scholars—the ranking instituteniks of Beijing and Shanghai and Guangzhou—can map the contours of their assessments. Yan Xuetong is the dean of Tsinghua University’s Institute of Modern International Relations. … Before I could ask a question, he said, “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.
… Yan said that America’s strength must be measured partly by its ability to persuade: “American leadership has already dramatically declined in the past ten months. In 1991, when Bush, Sr., launched the war against Iraq, it got thirty-four countries to join the war effort. This time, if Trump launched a war against anyone, I doubt he would get support from even five countries. Even the U.S. Congress is trying to block his ability to start a nuclear war against North Korea.” For Chinese leaders, Yan said, “Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity.” I asked Yan how long he thought the opportunity would last. “As long as Trump stays in power,” he replied.
“What is a moron?”
And as long as Trump stays in power the Chinese will continue to play him. Even without the psychiatric assessments of his narcissism, the Chinese understand him far better than the average American voter.
… In the mid-nineteen-eighties, the C.I.A. commissioned a China scholar named Richard Solomon to write a handbook for American leaders, “Chinese Political Negotiating Behavior.” Solomon, whose study was later declassified, noted that some of China’s most effective techniques were best described in the nineteenth century, when a Manchu prince named Qiying recorded his preferred approach. “Barbarians,” Qiying noted, respond well to “receptions and entertainment, after which they have had a feeling of appreciation.” Solomon warned that modern Chinese leaders “use the trappings of imperial China” to “impress foreign officials with their grandeur and seriousness of purpose.” Solomon advised, “Resist the flattery of being an ‘old friend’ or the sentimentality that Chinese hospitality readily evokes.” …
[During Trump’s November trip to China] Xi deftly flattered his guest. Upon Trump’s arrival, they took a sunset tour of the Forbidden City. They drank tea, watched an opera performance at the Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds, and admired an antique gold urn. The next morning, at the Great Hall of the People, Trump was greeted by an even more lavish ceremony, with Chinese military bands, the firing of cannons, and throngs of schoolchildren, who waved colored pompoms and yelled, in Chinese, “Uncle Trump!” Government censors struck down critical comments about Trump on social media.
And the result?
Trump’s deference to Xi—the tributes and tender musings about chemistry—sent a message to other countries that are debating whether to tilt toward the U.S. or China. Daniel Russel [who was, until March, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs] said, “The American President is here. He’s looking in awe at the Forbidden City. He’s looking in awe at Xi Jinping, and he’s choosing China because of its market, because of its power. If you thought that America was going to choose you and these ‘old-fashioned’ treaties and twentieth-century values, instead of Xi Jinping and the Chinese market, well, think again.”
So why should we care?
Before Trump took office, the Chinese government was far outspending the U.S. in the development of the types of artificial intelligence with benefits for espionage and security. According to In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the United States intelligence community, the U.S. government spent an estimated $1.2 billion on unclassified A.I. programs in 2016. The Chinese government, in its current five-year plan, has committed a hundred and fifty billion dollars to A.I.
The Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget would cut scientific research by fifteen per cent, or $11.1 billion. That includes a ten-per-cent decrease in the National Science Foundation’s spending on “intelligent systems.” In November, Eric Schmidt, then the chairman of Alphabet, told the Artificial Intelligence & Global Security Summit, in Washington, that reductions in the funding of basic-science research will help China overtake the U.S. in artificial intelligence within a decade. “By 2020, they will have caught up. By 2025, they will be better than us. By 2030, they will dominate the industries of A.I.,” he said. Schmidt, who chairs the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, added that the ban on visitors from Iran was an obstacle to technology development. “Iran produces some of the top computer scientists in the world. I want them here. I want them working for Alphabet and Google. It’s crazy not to let these people in.”
Set aside couple of hours to read and digest the rest of Osnos’ article. And then spread the word. Trump and his reflexive acts have made us weaker, not stronger. Made us less, not more, secure. Made us poorer, not richer. Made the world a more, not less, dangerous place. So, as our democracy slides into idiocracy, Trump’s beligerence and bullsh!t accelerates China’s ascendance as the next global leader. I have this nagging feeling that America will never be great again.