I wonder if anyone sees the similarity between Trump and Xi. Nutty idea? How could that be? After all, Trump is the elected leader of a democracy, albeit a declining one. Xi is the Communist Party’s chosen leader of a Communist country, one rapidly growing stronger. What could be more different than that? Is the United States not the shining city on a hill proudly characterized by President Nixon (borrowed from Puritan John Winthrop)? Could there be any serious comparison of the men in this uncanny bromance?
We are told with plausible intelligence of China’s earliest Coronavirus actions—a rapidly imposed, strong-arm coverup in Wuhan. As 2019 ended, for the sake of politically-driven secrecy, the world was presented with a virus that had been given avoidable extra time to proliferate. Even to speak of the terrifying bug was criminalized, muzzling Chinese scientists. Was Xi involved? Maybe not directly. But whatever level of government was directly involved, arresting viral spread was deemed less imperative than arresting scientists who spoke out.
Frankly, in an autocratic system that takes up arms against facts, where truth and fiction are made intentionally hard to distinguish, the highest authority can reasonably be blamed for what that system allows quite as much as what it directly causes. In that way, Xi was not only involved, but instrumental in and therefore accountable for whatever unnecessary damage came about by treating whistle-blowing like treason rather than like a fire alarm.
There’s another similarity, one where facts are negotiable and inspectors general, if they exist, take their jobs seriously, and who inform on superiors are pointedly ordered to fuhgeddaboudit. The higher on the chain a person is, the more blame is aimed downward, much like Trump’s refusal to accept responsibility for any of America’s Covid19 tragedy.
Constricted public access to knowledge embarrassing to high officials covers a lot more, of course, than emergent viruses. Investigative journalism consists in part of making public what government officials want kept from the public. Freedom of the press is unknown. Consequently, Xi’s power is virtually absolute, rather than hampered by the impediments of free press, Constitutional law, independent judiciary, and an independent legislative body. Though Xi and Trump similarly wish to control public knowledge and their own accountability, features of American open society make it more difficult for Trump. He can’t get away with it completely yet. To be considerate, we might have to lament, “Poor Donald. Jinping has it easy.”
See how great the differences are between Xi and Trump?
OK, but perhaps we should take another look. There are ways in which Trump is not only different from Xi, but from most persons I’ve ever known. Xi appears—in spite of his political persuasion—to be intelligent and capable of the mental discipline to make present choices that are consistent with long term choices, unlike Trump’s transactional approach to life. Trump has made it clear that he admires dictators’ strong control, but while he has a strong-man self image of common street-level thuggery, he does not exhibit sufficient understanding of large system management, nor does he have the consistency to carry the weight that tricking a free society toward autocracy requires.
Further, America has a longer history of constitutional government, citizen engagement, and individual rights that any would-be dictator must overcome, an ingrained resistance other strong-men don’t face. Our population is not homogeneous, forcing Trump to face a majority against his intentions. Moreover, most Americans do not want to endure his indecency, immaturity, antipathy to science, transactional decision-making, unending lies, alternative facts, and generally flawed judgment.
Since his inauguration in early 2017, Trump has been on a campaign to remake presidential politics in his image. One of his methods was to build personal power by permanently campaigning for president even after inauguration, thereby maintaining and building his political base. That effort—unlike other presidents—was made possible in part due to his neglect of the responsibilities he had just acquired. His strategy included building stronger Republican strength in House districts and the Senate. If local voters could be caused to develop more loyalty to him than to their own senator or congressman/woman, it would become in Congressional Republicans’ interests to support whatever Trump wished to do. This worked so well that Trump acquired power over them, so much that even an otherwise damning impeachment could not succeed. Souls were in the market; Trump was willing to pay.
Success as a bully paved his way to become increasingly coercive, unethical, and frankly illegal. Even though the painstaking Mueller investigation found him to have broken the law, prosecution was blocked by a Department of Justice technicality and a friendly Attorney General. Clearly illegal action by Trump toward Ukraine and toward Joe Biden, whom he expected to be his opposition for president, led to articles of impeachment by the Democratic House. But that failed to remove him from office due to the decision of the Senate’s Republican majority to add one more discredit to its string of dishonorable actions, to wit, acquitting a criminal president simply to avoid his disfavor.
To conclude this post, I’ll concede that even Trump’s conversion of the Republican Party to his own ends may show signs of weakening. On this, though, my love of country and commitment to the ending of Trump’s destructive presidency are in no way objective. The Liberal publication The Hill in the past few days ran an opinion that Trump is “strengthening his grip on the Republican Party” even greater than before, and quoted Vin Weber, a GOP strategist, that “He’s gotten increasingly bold in asserting his will in the Republican Party . . . The party is dominated by the president and his supporters and his backers and his organization.” The important message in that opinion is that the squeeze is growing too bullying to maintain. The price may be getting too high even for Republican office holders for whom shame has thus far been an unknown emotion. Trump’s terrible and inept misbehavior as president might finally catch up with him. Maybe so; maybe not. America and other democracies worldwide can only hope.
There is nothing new about the disgrace of Republican elected officials being not just the president’s allies, but his lapdogs to the point of disregarding the job they swore to do. The Republican party has become a shadow of itself—the party I knew more personally, the party of Howard Baker and other ethical, conservative senators. It is not impossible for it to change for the better. But this aspiration calls for an incredibly extensive, overdue reform of Republicans’ dishonorable subservience to Trump’s mixture of incompetence and evil. November 2020 will determine our future and affect much of the world.
America doesn’t need a Xi for president.
We already have him.