A recent New York Times article reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to rule indefinitely after a change in the Chinese constitution eliminated presidential term limits. It went on to state that China is bracing for a new cold war with the U.S., due in part to President Trump’s plans to upgrade American nuclear forces. A Chinese official was quoted as saying, “In the Asia-Pacific, the dominant role of the United States in a political and military sense will have to be readjusted.” The Chinese believe America is a superpower in decline.
Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to agree with his Chinese friends. This week he announced the development of two new Russian nuclear weapons that he says can penetrate U.S. missile defenses. His presentation included an animation showing multiple warheads descending on Florida. It was like a presentation by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Putin had the audacity to show nuclear warheads descending on our country and Trump’s favorite vacation spot. Trump had no comment in response.
Several articles have suggested that Russia transferred some of its Soviet-era technology to North Korea, jump starting this rouge nation’s missile and nuclear program. In time I think we will learn that Putin did exactly that. Any situation he can orchestrate to harass and challenge the U.S. as a global power furthers his agenda and he will eagerly do it.
Unfortunately, I can understand why the Chinese believe the U.S. is in decline and it didn’t just start with Trump. President George W. Bush pushed through large tax cuts, bumbled into two horribly wasteful wars and left office in the face of a vicious recession that his incompetent administration helped cause.
President Barack Obama entered office saddled with the Bush legacy. It was a time for bipartisan action to solve the problems, something Congress had typically done. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP caucus wanted none of that. They obstructed every effort Obama made to turn the economy around and get people back to work. The Republican Tea Party wave in the 2010 election further exacerbated the congressional dysfunction and partisan divides that are weakening our country.
Then after eight years under Obama’s leadership with the economy on the mend, unemployment low and deficits more manageable, Donald J. Trump was elected president.
No doubt the Chinese watched with keen interest as Putin’s henchmen blatantly attacked the U.S. democratic election process in 2016 and noted that there was no retaliatory response from either Trump or Republicans in Congress. They must have felt emboldened when America elected a man who is so obviously unfit to be president and Republicans in Congress fell in line to support him.
Against the wishes of his base, Obama negotiated the Trans Pacific Partnership to counter China’s ambitions in the Pacific Rim. The Chinese no doubt cheered when Trump rejected the TPP on his first day in office. They were eager to accept an invitation to assume leadership in this huge, strategically important region. Free trade Republicans were silent.
Trump quickly built on the polarization and dysfunction he inherited from a GOP-led Congress. Thanks to him, white nationalists were suddenly gaining a voice in U.S. politics. Immigrants, who have been the strength of American culture, were viewed as threats instead of assets. And everything Obama accomplished was targeted for elimination, no matter how beneficial it was.
Congress made one effort to punish Russia for election hacking by enacting more sanctions. Trump simply ignored them. He preferred to attack the Justice Department, the FBI and America’s judicial system. Sadly, Republicans like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) joined in the effort to discredit these important institutions of democracy.
Putin and Xi Jinping are savvy, ruthless politicians with decades of experience. They know how to get what they want. Trump would rather play golf than strategize and tweet about petty issues rather than set sound policies for America’s role in the global economy and power structure. He runs the government like a reality TV show without a script.
There are countless examples of Trump’s leadership failures, but consider his abrupt announcement on Thursday that the U.S. would impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum next week. It was irrational, unplanned and poorly executed. Some believe it was an angry reaction to the chaos that has engulfed his White House.
The tariffs edict will primarily damage our allies and our friendly neighbor, Canada. Perhaps after he finishes playing golf this weekend, someone will have the courage to tell Trump what a bad idea trade wars are. And if he flippantly decides to change his mind next week, what does that say about America’s leadership in the future? Is it any wonder the Chinese believe the U.S. is in decline?
Removing Republicans from control of Congress in the midterm elections would be a good first step in telling the world that the Trump/Republican agenda does not have popular support. It would be a rejection of tax cuts for the wealthy, distain for the environment and worship of the gun.
But beyond that, how does this democratic republic — with its system of government that has long been a shining example for the world — deal with the unethical, unstable and inept man who sits in the Oval Office?
I believe the answer to that question will determine whether the Chinese are right or wrong.