China on Trump

On Monday, the Global Times—China’s state-run, English-language newspaper—ran an op-ed about Donald Trump and the violence that erupted at one of his Chicago campaign events last Friday. It’s worth a read, not only because it makes startlingly accurate assessments of Trump’s appeal, but because it provides an outside perspective on the U.S. political process.

Describing the recent violence at Trump rallies, the op-ed notes that, “Fist fights among voters who have different political orientations is quite common in developing countries during election seasons. Now, a similar show is shockingly staged in the US, which boasts one of the most developed and mature democratic election systems.” (This is true—research consistently demonstrates that democracies in developing countries and states undergoing the transition to democracy are more prone to electoral violence than stable democracies in wealthier countries.) The piece then assesses Trump’s rise:  “At the beginning of the election, Trump, a rich, narcissist and inflammatory candidate, [sic] was only treated as an underdog. His job was basically to act as a clown to attract more voters’ attention to the GOP. However, knocking down most other promising candidates, the clown is now the biggest dark horse…. Despite candidates’ promises, Americans know elections cannot really change their lives. Then, why not support Trump and vent their spleen?” The op-ed then assesses what this means for democracy in America: “The rise of a racist in the US political arena worries the whole world. Usually, the tempo of the evolution of US politics can be predicted, while Trump’s ascent indicates all possibilities and unpredictability. He has even been called another Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler by some Western media. Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections, a heavy lesson for Western democracy.”

When debating and formulating American foreign policy, observers, scholars and practitioners devote an enormous about of energy and attention to efforts to understand the beliefs and actions of other countries. We focus on questions like: why would Iran pursue a nuclear weapon? Will the United Kingdom leave the Euro zone? Is Kim Jong-Un going to invade South Korea within the next year? Most of us rarely, however, think about how other countries perceive our own country and its political system, and how these perceptions might influence policies towards us. Did you know, for example, that international polls reveal that the rest of the world considers the United States to be the greatest threat to world peace?[1] This really shouldn’t be surprising given how many countries the United States has invaded, attacked, or bombed over the last fifteen years, but we rarely think of ourselves in these terms.

The Global Times op-ed closes with a warning: “The US had better watch itself for not being a source of destructive forces against world peace, more than pointing fingers at other countries for their so-called nationalism and tyranny.” Indeed, the United States often tells other countries how to run their domestic politics, and sometimes it even invades other countries to make them free for democracy. One of the biggest points of irritation in the US-China relationship in recent years has been the United States’ finger-wagging insistence that China must clean up its act on human rights and treat its ethnic minorities with more respect. Watching the rise of Donald Trump—a rich, racist, misogynistic narcissist (fascist?) who seems poised to seize the presidential nomination from one of America’s two major political parties—it is not difficult to see why China and other outside observers might find it difficult to tolerate such a scolding from the United States.



[1] In case you’re wondering, the United States received 24 percent of the vote, with Pakistan garnering a distant 8 percent and China 6 percent. Americans, by contrast, ranked Iran the top threat.