“How Dare You”
Nationalism and the Threats to China and America
Loving one’s country and being proud of who you are as a people are admirable traits. But this love and pride can go too far and can be manipulated and twisted in dangerous, counterproductive ways. The unleashing of xenophobia and respective America/China First movements in both China and America have rapidly accelerated a spiral that was already sliding sideways. Can the genies be put back in the bottle?
You know, I do not like writing about a number of the topics that I have been of late, including this one. I would much prefer to talk about travel and less biting historical and cultural matters, stories that promote awareness and understanding and thus relationships. And yet, here I am. It keeps me up at night.
Let’s look at America. A recent photograph of the day (many of them actually) showed a group of armed men commandeering the steps of a Statehouse in protest. This was not about China, but it reflects the mood of a significant part of the American population towards current society. A friend also recently mentioned to me that an intellectual she knows and respects fears that President Trump, in his quest to stay in power, will manufacture an excuse to go to war with China. While I told her I fear more for the viability of America’s democracy than I believe a hot war is imminent, at a time when American leadership actively stokes nativist nationalism among the American people and seeks to subvert most norms of stable governance, maybe I am naïve.
Now let’s look at China. An article I read within the past couple of weeks posited that nativist nationalism in China is not a top-down affair led by the Chinese government, but rather a bottom-up, deep-seated belief within the Chinese population. I had always accepted that these spasms of righteous indignation were top-down affairs. Over the past several decades, the Chinese Communist Party would ratchet up nationalistic anger when it suited them (against America when an embassy was bombed, against Japan when barking over control of various islands, against South Korea when they got too cozy with America, and so on), but they always managed to reign it in when the specific political spat was over without too much of a hangover. Now, online anger at the slightest perceived slights to Chinese pride explodes worldwide in repeated flashes of insulted fervor. It sucks up all the oxygen in the room. Online critical essays and protests in China (censored as rapidly as possible) are growing, and attacks on foreigners and foreign culture are increasing.
The upshot is that while the leadership groups of the two countries use xenophobia and racism and manipulated pride for their respective political ends, I am now starting to question who is leading who. America has a long tradition of racism and America First sympathies, and maybe what Donald J. Trump has done is merely to make it cool again to be openly hateful. China has a long tradition of xenophobia against barbarians and China First sympathies, and maybe what Xi Jinping has done is merely to make it cool again to be openly hateful. However, in today’s day and age, this hate is aided by new technologies that allow lightning transmission and penetration of their messages. What happens if it all can no longer be controlled?