The true authoritarian danger is from the People’s Republic of China, not failed President Donald J. Trump Sr. (R-Florida).
Conversely, the threat to American democracy is not the People’s Liberation Army storming ashore in Long Beach. Instead, the danger is from American imitators of the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese brand of authoritarianism is dangerous because it works. Under the Communist Party’s rule, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew from $310.13 billion in 1985 to $16.863 trillion in 2021, Statista estimates. Furthermore, Statista projects China’s GDP could grow to $24.996 trillion in 2026. In contrast, the St. Louis Federal Reserve estimates America’s GDP was $23.173 trillion in the third quarter of 2021.
Moreover, China has done a far better job of dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic than the United States. For example, 780,254 Americans died of coronavirus before 11 November 2021, compared to 98,001 COVID-19 deaths reported in China, Worldometers estimates.
America needs to Fear China’s Success
It is easy to see how frustrated Americans could admire China’s success. For example, the China Railway Corp operated 15,500 miles of high-speed rail that connected over 100 major cities in 2019, Business Insider estimates.
Meanwhile, the United States has no true high-speed rail and is incapable of building a rail line between Merced and Bakersfield. Comparatively, the China Railway Corp plans to extend high-speed rail to another 225 cities by 2025. Similarly, China’s express highway system grew from 65,055 kilometers in 2009 to 161,000 kilometers in 2021, Statista estimates.
Hence, it is easy to imagine an American who has to drive on a crumbling and congested highway to reach a dingy airport for travel can envy the Chinese. The Chinese system is working.
Why we need to Fear China Envy
Another China admirer could include a factory worker in a Rust Belt city. The worker; who makes less money than his father and grandfather, lacks job security and a pension, and cannot afford to buy a house, feels America has failed.
The same worker sees examples of America’s failure all around him. Those examples include abandoned factories, empty storefronts, homeless people, friends or relatives dying of drug overdoses, crumbling roads, and nonexistent government services. Many American cities cannot provide citizens with basic services such as water and sewage disposal.
My prediction is that China envy will spread all over America. From the tech executive in San Francisco, who is sick of stepping over human waste and hypodermic needles on the sidewalk, to the Texan with no electricity. Many Americans feel our system is failing.
After all, our government was incapable of protecting the US Capitol itself from a mob of cosplayers. Similarly, many American cities fell into complete chaos in 2020, with mobs burning, looting, and pillaging and police doing nothing.
The Danger from Chinese Technocracy
The danger we face is that many of the people America has failed will start admiring China’s authoritarian technocracy and want to imitate it.
After all, China’s system has delivered a growing middle class, tens of millions of jobs, incredible rates of growth, and an orderly society that can handle problems such as COVID-19. Notably, China’s middle class grew from 3.1% of the population in 2000 to 50.8% of the population in 2018, China Power estimates. Meanwhile, headlines about a shrinking middle class fill America’s media. Pew Research estimates the percentage of middle-class Americans fell from 61% in 1970 to 51% in 2018.
China’s technocratic success comes at a high-price. Its government has the power to censor the internet and commit what critics call genocide against the Uyghur people. Human rights activists estimate there could be one million Uyghurs in Chinese concentration camps.
China is no democracy but its government is delivering success for its people. In contrast, America’s democracy does little or nothing for large swaths of the population.
The Erosion of Democracy
As David Sirota notes, millions of Americans are already voting against democracy by supporting the openly authoritarian Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). In several interviews, Sirota says people vote against democracy because democracy does nothing for them. At Daily Poster, Sirota warns of a “Democracy Crisis.”
Sirota writes: “Taken together, this is the democracy crisis thrumming underneath all the media noise — the day-to-day erosion of democracy by corporations that use a system of legalized bribery to buy public policy, which then erodes Americans’ faith in their government.”
At Daily Poster, Sirota notes corporate lobbyists easily killed the most popular provisions in the Democratic agenda. In contrast, China’s all powerful government can make billionaires such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma “disappear.” There is speculation the Chinese government blocked Fintech giant Ant Group’s initial public offering (IPO) just to hurt Ma. Ma is the principal owner of Ant Group.
Many Americans want a government powerful enough to control corporations and discipline billionaires. China has such a government.
Some Americans wrongly thought Trump could deliver such a government. In reality, Trump is a piece of spineless corporate lickspittle who knows how to play a tough guy on TV.
Strongmen American Style
Notably, Trump appeals to segments of the population that feel weak and vulnerable. Working-class whites and Evangelical Christians, in particular. Hence, Trump voters want a strongman, but Trump is a straw man.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, is a real-life strongman who has brought billionaires to heel and strengthened his nation. My prediction is that some disillusioned Trump followers, including conservative intellectuals, will make Xi their new hero.
Like Trump, Xi is a nationalist. Unlike Trump, Xi is a successful nationalist who delivers on his promises.
Some American conservatives are already searching for such a leader. A small group of conservative policy wonks is hero-worshiping Hungarian President Viktor Orbán. Conservative pundits Rod Dreher and Tucker Carlson have travelled to Budapest to sing Orbán’s praises.
Orbán appeals to Christian intellectuals, but I doubt the leader of a small Eastern European republic will have mass appeal in America. The leader of the world’s most successful economy, on the other hand, will have mass appeal. I think it will be a short-stretch from admiring Orbán to singing the praises of Xi Jinping.
Moreover, I think Xi will have a far wider appeal to American intellectuals than Orbán. For example, Chinese success in technological development will appeal to Silicon Valley fascists such as Peter Thiel. Similarly, Xi’s law and order politics will appeal to many Republicans.
It will not surprise me if there will be an effort to manufacture an American Xi Jinping to “restore America’s Greatness.” The idea being to find someone who can turn America’s democracy into a Chinese-style technocracy.
Such a technocracy will have a powerful appeal to those America’s democracy has failed. For example, the unemployed workers in the Midwest, poor blacks, and an upper class that increasingly lives in fear of poor Americans.
Authoritarian Technocracy American Style
Here is how I think they will sell authoritarian technocracy to the American people.
First, pundits will say things like “you know China’s middle class is growing, and ours is not.” Or “China’s economy creates lots of jobs and Chinese business owners do not have to worry about those pesky unions.” Then they will point to the safe streets in China and how China’s government protects children from bad influences on the internet.
Second, pundits will note how the Chinese government “gets things done.” For example, building 150 nuclear power plants to fight global warming.
Third, pundits will point to elements of Chinese policy that appeal to different groups in America. For example, they will tell environmentalists how the Chinese government jails people for burning coal. Similarly, they will tell Evangelicals how the Chinese government bans movies that promote homosexuality.
Fourth, people will say the only way to compete with China is to become China. For example, militarists will say we need to imitate China’s industry in order to build enough weapons to deter war with China.
I think such appeals will find many many listeners in a nation suffering an erosion of democracy. Tens of millions of Americans have already abandoned democracy. National Public Radio estimates 80 million Americans did not vote in 2020.
Those who think democracy does not work will be receptive to the idea of authoritarian technocracy. Leaders such as Trump and President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) with their lies and buffoonish behavior will further discredit democracy.
Americans need to fear Chinese Authoritarianism because it works when America often fails its citizens. Hence, the best way to protect American democracy is to create an America that delivers results for ordinary Americans.