China: Saving America From Itself

With respect to China, Trump is Obama II. He follows in perfect continuity his predecessor’s belligerence in pursuing America’s thirst for permanent establishment as undisputed world hegemon, only the combined resistance of Russia and China standing in America’s way of its unilaterally defining the global political-structural-ideological-military framework in its favor, to which all other nations must—or so he believes–defer. Trump is no fool, unless of course a megalomaniacal AUTARKY–a self-sufficient and independent national economy (thank you, Webster’s, but also with the implicit, often actualized, policies and values of militarism for enforcement purposes)—is presumptive grounds of dangerous social insanity (which it is, historically, as confirmed by both World Wars in the twentieth century!).

The superficial difference in China policy between Obama and Trump, over whether or not to favor and work toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an Obama signature—along with his armed drone for targeted assassination—that Trump threatens to dissolve, reveals differences in levels of sophistication, but not goals as such. Each wants to cripple China’s particularly economic power so that it will not challenge US supremacy. That means an all-out geopolitical strategy of containment, isolation, and, ultimately, if not dismemberment (Taiwan’s troubled waters, clogged with troops and, in the South China Sea, carrier battle groups at the ready), then at least pressures aimed at declining Chinese strength and regional leadership. There is little to choose between Obama and Trump where it counts: alternative means to structural-ideological near-destruction (US-defined good world citizenship in obedience to America’s wishes and decisions).

In Trump’s case, an apparent liking of, and comfort with, Russia and Putin, may be less than it seems, and rather, a divide-and-conquer strategy, where uppermost is prevention of a coalition of Russia and China in resistance to America’s steadily increasing and encroaching appetite for exclusive global power. Whereas Obama has kept Russia at arm’s length, as part of a unified, supposedly new, but really continuous, Cold War, Trump peels Russia off, the better to get at China directly, a morbidity of muscle-flexing against what he realizes is America’s chief global adversary. Unlike Obama, who favors a totality of confrontation, Trump sees Russia as flaccid, lacking in will, in the final analysis, to stand up to America.

He underestimates Putin, just as he overestimates America’s military and other strengths in a multipolar world where, especially in relative terms, the US is correctly perceived as in decline, itself the tired one, torn by self-imposed demands for military supremacy at the expense of a deteriorating social safety net and crumbling infrastructure, and a consuming preoccupation with the culture wars over class, race, and gender—an emptiness of direction borne out by the essential sameness of the two political parties in their prescription for the future. In that regard, China is everything America is not. It is an ascendant world social force, as its present development projects in Africa and Latin America show, rather than ideologically trapped in a rigid ethnocentric mode. Neither Russia nor China will lie down and play dead to American ambition.

I want to be specific about China, as brought out in The Guardian (January 3) on the question of America’s confrontational posture. Its account, written by Benjamin Haas, in Hong Kong, differs from the above in texture and spirit, which, I believe, makes its evidence the more compelling. I may be set down as an America-basher, the Guardian certainly is not. Its lead, in the US briefing, under the heading, “China critic picked as Trump trade chief,” demonstrates American hostility to China beyond peradventure (not that Obama cannot match Trump stride-for-stride in this regard).

The Guardian states: “Longtime China critic and protectionist Robert Lighthizer, 69, has been selected as Donald Trump’s trade chief. The move indicates Trump intends to follow through on the tough stance he has threatened to take against China; Lighthizer has often advocated increasing tariffs and called for use of the harsher methods against China.” None of this surprises, merely confirming, without exception, Trump’s appointment-designees, all of whom are pledged to the destruction of the areas, from State to EPA, they are to preside over—a muted fascistic coup d’etat if ever there was one (Obama only steps behind, typified by his Holder appointment, running roughshod over habeas corpus rights). But as for China, the appointments carry a particular viciousness (in keeping with the autarkic foundations of his presidency).

The Guardian continues: “Lighthizer will also lightly work alongside Peter Navarro, who will lead the presidential office for US trade and industrial policy.” This is the same Navarro who characterized China’s government as a “despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power.” Nothing is left out; he qualifies as the poet laureate of the Trump regime, a post held by Ben Rhodes under Obama. And once into the body of the article, by Haas, it only gets better.

China is quite forthright in response, its paper, Global Times, writing, “May the arrogant Americans realise that the United States of America is perhaps just a shooting star in the ample sky of history.” China will not be a pushover, and a showdown is surely in the offing. Haas notes, “Trump has packed his cabinet with tycoons, vowed to renegotiate trade deals and crack down on what he says are China’s unfair policies.” As for Lighthizer, we have a thumbnail sketch of qualifications and rectitude as Washington would have it: “Lighthizer is a former Reagan-era trade official and had a previous stint in the Office of the US Trade Representative, where he travelled the world negotiating deals to curb steel imports. He then went on to a career as a trade lawyer, representing giants such as US Steel Corp working to fend off foreign imports.” (italics, mine)

This is what we have to look forward to, utter opportunism, conflict-of-interest philosophy and conduct, the makings of incipient fascism on behalf of American business interests, or rather, that of the mega-firms and –banks: the shining head of plutocracy, as America, not satisfied with its role and status in this respect, wants ever-more wealth, power, military might. And Trump himself deftly turns the argument away from American capitalist aggrandizement by making the worker a diversion and figurehead for this endeavor. He says, Lighthizer will “fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first,” not his first pronouncement hiding behind workers to carry out policies of wealth concentration. I give the last word to Louis Kuijs, of Oxford Economics and a former senior China economist at the World Bank: “There is almost no guessing, economic policy under Trump will become more nationalistic and more interventionist. It’s very clear their policies will be especially tough on China.”

Yes, nationalistic and interventionist equals Economic Xenophobia, a we-they dichotomy with ramifications beyond the economic, and already sharpened into the hard edge of Ideology, productive of confrontation, possible aggression, and, given the current place of nihilism in the American psyche, nuclear war. And here, Trump has not yet even taken office, although the underlying transition of power will be less shaky, more continuous, than planned high drama over policy would seem to suggest. Targeted assassination, Cold War animosities and cultural lag, militarization of American capitalism (for its own sake as well as that of capitalism’s), all will continue, with the blessings of both political parties.

Perhaps, just perhaps, China can save America from itself, this, not by turning the other cheek, but by standing up to America and forcing it to recognize the limitation to its power, in that way inviting it to become a world citizen of good standing, shorn of counterrevolutionary zeal and respectful of the rights of other nations. To go from #1 global bully to achieving a more modest role in world politics would be like lifting a tremendous moral burden from US shoulders, one, however, not even recognized at present because of the tyrannous sway of Exceptionalism on the American mindset. America is past the point of self-rejuvenation; outside help is needed to bring us to our senses, where Obama and Trump are seen as equally undesirable alternatives. But then again, is there any sure corrective to the decay of democratic institutions since the close of World War II? Even China cannot, finally, be the good fairy-godmother; only America can save itself, and with it the world.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at