An old Chinese saying goes: When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills (Feng xiang zhuan bian shi, you ren zhu qiang, you ren zao feng che).

So who is going to come out of the looming ‘trade war’ in front?

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An interesting survey from Gallup, based on interviews and telephone conversations with 1,000 people in each country.

The result: the global approval of US leadership in 2017 dropped to 30%, behind Germany on 41% and China on 31%. Both Germany and China remained at the same level from the previous year, indicating stability.

Some graphs tell the story:

GL 01

Notably, Russia and the USA are quite close to one another. Now for the disapproval rating, which for the USA sits at 43%:

In the Americas it has shot up to 58%:

I am most intrigued by the last graph, which indicates how much the approval/disapproval rates have shifted in different parts of the globe:

 

In much of Europe, the Americas, central and southern Africa, south and south-eastern Asia (including Australia in this last group), it has plummeted, while parts of northern Africa, eastern Europe and Russia have seen an increase! Not sure it will make much difference in Russia.

However, the danger of such graphs is to enhance the idea that Trump’s USA is an anomaly, in contrast to the ‘golden age’ of Obama et al. All manner of concerted efforts are underway to generate this impression, whether blaming the Russians for meddling, questioning Trump’s mental stability, or indeed asserting that his election victory was the result of purely racist elements. Instead, Trump is merely a symptom of a much longer trajectory.

 

A good piece in the Global Times about a Chinese student’s experience in the United States. It depicts the bias, if not racism, against Chinese students, who are often rejected now even if they have very good marks. But more importantly, it picks apart through first-hand experience how the liberal ideals of the United States are anything but. ‘Individualism’ – no, for stereotypes abound based on race and socio-economic status. ‘Equal opportunity’ – some are more equal than others. ‘Human rights’ – forget it. Apart from the complete absence of the right to economic wellbeing, discrimination based on race, belief, religious affiliation, political preference and so on.

With increasing news that US border bureaucrats are asking travellers to hand over electronic devices and provide access (passwords etc.), so they can check your social media, email and so on, it is time either to give the USA a miss (there are better places to visit) or to leave all devices at home. A simple ‘dumb’ or ‘burner’ phone, with a couple of numbers on it may be all that you want to bring with you. Then again, you may be denied entry with these as well, since they may be a signal you are trying to hide something.

In all this, the one I like best is that one may be subject to ‘ideological’ questioning upon arrival at the border.

Obviously, I am referring to Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections, which I risked suggesting back in July he would win. I refer not to the parts of the world that relied on the myth of pax americana. I mean the many parts of the world that have been bullied by the USA for too long. Trump’s turn will clearly be inward, retreating from US efforts to dominate many parts of the world where it had no business whatsoever. To be sure, declining empires never decline gracefully. They do so angrily, lashing out. But the decline is all the more clear.

So what to make of all this?

To begin with, the working class has expressed itself in an unexpected way. Given the narrow options within bourgeois democracy, this is one of the few paths open to the working class. Like Brexit.

Second, the old methods of opinion polling are no longer valid within bourgeois democracies. They are simply unable to track the way people actually feel. I discussed this with some fellow travellers on my recent journey by train across North America – the last of my trans-continental crossings that needed to be done. They were profoundly suspicious of what the polls were saying,

Third, Trump has reaped what Obama has sown. That may sound like a strange observation. But US politics has been predicated on a sense of decline. Think of Obama’s ‘hope’ campaign, with the implicit message of restoring a lost golden age. Trump simply claimed to ‘make America great again’, thereby signalling as clearly as possible that greatness was in the past. By contrast, Clinton’s claim that the USA is great but that it simply needs to be made ‘whole again’ did not cut it.

Fourth, Trump embodies the truth of US style bourgeois democracy. Anyone watching from outside is saying, ‘if that is bourgeois democracy, then no thanks’.

Do not get me wrong, I am not a supporter of Trump, nor of Clinton. In fact, I am not a supporter of bourgeois democracy. It is a terrible system. And Trump reveals how bad it really is.

 

 

I can say that while teaching in China I am enjoying the process of setting young and active minds on the correct path. To that end, I tell them:

1. The United States is a very strange country, unlike any other. For that reason, they should not generalise from the USA.

2. Europe is a very barbaric place, full of petty tribalisms.

3. Bourgeois (liberal) democracy is a dreadful system, best avoided (actually, they know this already).

4. Australia is neither a Western nor an Eastern country, since it is in the South.

5. Kangaroo meat is very good for you.

Since many of my students will be future government leaders and officials, I hope these items and more will have some effect.

However, I have also learnt a few things from them:

1. Communism is not a rational ideal that you then try to actualise.

2. Communism is not singular but multiple.

3. They work very hard and know much more about the rest of the world than the world knows about China.

4. One’s stomach is the best guide for travelling to different places.

5. Office hours mean I buy them lunch and we talk for more than four hours – about everything.

‘What is this? Brown water?’ He said with a look of disgust after sipping from his cup.

‘Isn’t it supposed to be coffee?’ I said.

‘Americans make such bad coffee it barely deserves to be called coffee at all,’ he said. ‘I once spilled a cup on my lap. After it dried, there was nothing, no stain. Coffee is supposed to leave a decent, black stain’.

We were on a long haul train journey across the USA (Amtrak is one of the great hidden gems here), having breakfast somewhere between Colorado and New Mexico. Our meal companions were a couple of young Chinese men who had been sent to Kansas from Tokyo for a year by their employer. Apart from getting used to the culture shock of such a move and the absence of public transport, they found they had to come to terms with the dreadful coffee.

It is difficult not to agree. Only in the USA can Starbucks seem like good coffee. Elsewhere it might universally be regarded as dreadful coffee, but in the USA it seems like a good drink. Less watery, with a trace of taste, and an effort at socially responsible business practices – Starbucks at least tries. Or I should say it used to try. Now they have succumbed to the status quo. Gone are the individually ground cups of coffee; gone are the bang, twist, hiss and gurgle of a something that might resemble coffee. Instead, they now have computerised machines that require a mere press of a button. A trickle of brown water flows into a cup and that is it.

Watery, tasteless, lukewarm. Making such bad coffee is not laziness. It requires dedicated attention over many years to come up with that formula.

Is coffee in the USA a metaphor for the failure of neoliberal economic policies that have been pursued here with such energy? Possibly. Travel by train through the back yard of the country. Stop a while in a trailerized town, witness the sea of poverty all around, and realize that the propaganda of the American dream applies only to a privileged few. Islands of privilege in a sea of poverty. The economic ‘benefits’ are for the majority barely that at all: watered down, tasteless, lukewarm. You are better off without it.

Yet what astounds me is the way such an economic approach can in any way be touted as the model for others. How can this approach to economic life be regarded as anything but a failure? Why would anyone in the right mind think that it should be copied anywhere else?