The two visits were not planned to coincide, yet they serve as book-ends between which US world policies stand exposed as the militarily dominant but emotionally-spiritually crippled hegemon thrashes about desperately seeking to hold on to its unilateral privileged status. American-sponsored (and defined) globalization no longer carries conviction among the peoples of the world, its very emphasis on the arrogance of power revealing the Leviathan has feet of clay. Of the two, Xi and Francis, it is the latter who poses an immediate, the former a more long-range, threat to American supremacy and smugness.
US certitude of its exceptionalism and greatness, license to act with impunity in international relations and on behalf of concentrated financial-industrial wealth domestically, faces a single voice of humility, but behind that, giving it cogency and power, the yearning of the world’s millions for peace on earth, the conservation of the planet, and the raising of living standards worldwide (not the sort of globalization America envisions!). Francis values the ascetic mental cast, which clashes directly with unrestrained capitalism; and whether he is too polite to say it directly on his visit, the anti-capitalist core of his pastoral message to America is loud and clear. His visit to Cuba did not provide a mouthpiece for regime change, much as the American media and US government sought to parse his words to come up with that conclusion. Whatever the differences between socialism and Catholicism in the past, they are being made aware of their commonality of interests by headlong pace of American capitalism to broadcast and expand its essential nihilism to all and sundry, whereby profit and cynicism and the abandonment of all moral obligation rule the roost, a steadily hardening amorality subjecting its own citizens and others to a corporatist framework in which society shall be hierarchically-arranged to suit the needs and ambitions of business.
The world sees this, and from another quarter, China sees this, fueling Xi’s confidence that America is incapable any longer of rational planning and discourse, thinking itself invulnerable under its nuclear umbrella. China, meanwhile, lives in the real world of constructing the social organization needed to serve a tremendous population heretofore existing under Third World conditions—patently, the economic miracle of our time. Xi, far more than Mao, is on top of the seemingly inevitable confrontation with America, inevitable because the latter’s exceptionalism has made socialism and even democratic working-class rights short of that anathema to the US psychology (read, ideology in petrified form) set on the superiority of capitalism as a closed system of values and practices. The US is not used to being talked back to, much less a counter-example and alternative modal pattern of development, which together demonstrate America’s basic thrust of wealth inequality, ethnic and racial tensions, and an internal regimen of massive surveillance, all indicative of a structural-cultural path toward fascism.
Neither Xi nor Francis has to be explicit on this direction, the US is doing that for them; but only the politically-morally blind ignore the living refutation each represents to the American social order. Let’s start with Francis, who, in his first social encyclical, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, (June 18), presents anti-capitalism not in Marxian prose and analysis, but in homiletic terms which nonetheless carry the same punch. He fuses concern over climate change with an indictment of poverty, granted, an indirect castigation of capitalism, yet as one looks closer, an additive process of moral scorn which relates the degradation of humanity and the environment to a common source, the deification of wealth and privilege. In his remarks at the White House ceremony today marking his visit (Sept. 23), preceded by Obama’s insipidity claiming their agreement on basic issues, Francis does not tip his hand on the other’s hypocrisy concerning treatment of the poor or climate change—as though both were walking on egg shells—but the record speaks loud and clear.
Let’s start with Laudato Si, and let the reader imagine Obama saying, believing, and acting upon the same statements. This first batch derives from June 18, and from there I’ll add more recent statements:
“We have to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
“Whatever is fragile like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified
“An integral ecology includes taking time to reflect on our lifestyle and our ideals.”
More recently, Francis said on July 2, “A great challenge: stop ruining the garden which God has entrusted to us so that we may enjoy it.” On July 15: “Now is the time for a change in mindset and to stop pretending that our actions do not affect those who suffer from hunger.” And on August 25: “A Christian who is attached to riches has lost his way.” This is similar to the Social Gospel and/or Christian Socialism in late 19th century America, albeit, non-revolutionary, eschewing mounting the barricades, yet far to the Left of current American beliefs and growing directly out of Francis’s experience with fascist dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s.
He knows what he is about, and in his references to “a deified market,” “an integral ecology,” and the “garden” facing spoliation, capitalism leaps out before us as the prime candidate for man’s inhumanity to man. Even in his visit to Cuba, the fact that he did not condemn Fidel and Raul must have proven disappointing to the Administration. Xi, on the other hand, is more assertive, for he is prepared to go head-to-head with Obama, who appears psychologically invested in the weakening and isolation of China. Obama readily demonized Putin; Xi appears to be a more elusive target, whose readiness to deal with American business does not fit the stereotype of a Communist devil. Xi arrived in Seattle the same day Francis arrived in Washington, and it would be instructive if both could have a frank discussion in New York about US global hegemony and its consequences for war, intervention, and world poverty, but I fear that will not happen.
We can see an adversarial edge to Xi’s visit, from Obama’s standpoint, from Jane Perlez’s New York Times article, “Xi Jinping Pledges to Work With U.S. to Stop Cybercrimes,” (Sept. 23), in which Xi repudiates US charges and calls for greater cybersecurity. He politely refrains from mentioning the US record on surveillance and eavesdropping, as well as attempts to wreak havoc upon Iran’s nuclear research. Instead, addressing American business executives, he said: “’The Chinese government will not in whatever form engage in commercial theft, and hacking against government networks are crimes that must be punished in accordance with the law and relevant international treaties.’” He added, “’China is ready to set up a high-level joint dialogue mechanism with the United States on fighting cybercrimes.’” An Obama senior China adviser promised “’very robust discussion.’”
Xi expressed confidence in China’s economy, the recent stock market decline being “’only a problem in the course of progress,’” to which his government was taking corrective steps to avoid “’systemic risk.’” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, and Bill Gates, its founder, sat on either side of Xi’s senior adviser, Li Zhanshu, symbolizing what I believe to be Xi’s strategy of bypassing Washington as hopelessly ideological and connecting up directly with the business leadership. “’We are ready,’” Xi stated, “’to discuss rule-of-law issues with the U.S. side in a spirit of mutual learning for common progress.’” Penny Pritzker, Commerce Secretary, preceded him, warning that he should not expect “his meetings in Washington would be smooth going.” She spoke of “’the lack of a level playing field across a range of sectors.’” What she did not say, of course, is that Obama’s pivot, both his Pacific-first strategy of military containment and his Trans-Pacific Partnership of economic isolation, had put China on notice of America’s geopolitical framework of making China the new focus of a revitalized Cold War.
Whether “Communist” any longer characterizes China’s political economy and social order may be subject to debate, there and elsewhere, but America’s official response goes beyond mistrust to the need to assail an Enemy threatening US global pre-eminence. Ironically, the central issue for America may no longer be capitalism per se, but that which has historically been associated with it: the power to act with impunity in international relations, specifically, market penetration and financial dominance for purely hegemonic as well as capitalist reasons, as though the militarization of America’s world presence would insure against competition or displacement—a fear both Francis and Xi recognize as the US’s motivating force.
My New York Times Comment on the Perlez article, same date, follows:
Sec. Pritzker’s reference to a level playing field translates as a return to the Open Door policies of the late 19th century, when China was weak and could not counter US terms of market penetration. No longer can China be taken for granted as the arena for one-sided business arrangements.
Compared with Obama, Xi is a real mensch–no whining, no ballyhoo, and instead the straightforward analysis of problems. In time, China may well overtake America in economic power. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has no parallel in the US, as witness the slap on the wrist for GM and its premeditated murder of upwards now of 200 with the defective ignition switch.
Consider the problems facing China and how it is attempting to provide for its huge population via urban resettlement. And consider Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, with carrier battle-groups adjacent to China–a clear act of HOSTILITY, along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership to isolate China, which should make Xi less accommodating to Obama than he is.
We see the paradox where business in America seeks greater reconciliation with China than does government, USG solidly entrenched in Cold War thinking that shows ideology (rigidly maintained) trumps both peace and pragmatism. The administration does not want improvement in relations. It has a vested interest in hate and backwardness. Xi is above such infantilism, and perhaps also are the two business communities.