On January 6th, far-right protestors stormed the U.S. capitol building, defaced property, and in the process beat a law enforcement officer to death with a fire extinguisher. Reactions domestically were that of shock, horror, and disbelief. Indeed, the scenes of violent mobs surging through government buildings are generally one that Americans are accustomed to seeing abroad rather than at home. Both domestic and international officials, such as Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, gave stern condemnation. Some, however, traded barbs and expressed condemnation, not of the protests themselves, but the electoral system as a whole.
“The unrest on Capitol Hill that interrupted the official affirmation of electoral votes in Congress certainly casts a shadow on the entire process of the democratic transfer of power… As we can see, the boomerang of ‘colour revolutions’ [in post-Soviet countries] is coming back to the U.S. All this threatens to turn into a crisis of the American system of power in the new century.” These were the words that Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the Lower House State Duma Affairs Committee, used. The spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry, Maria Zakharov, decried the electoral system in the United States as, “-archaic….”, stating that it, “-does not meet modern democratic standards… and the American media has become an instrument of political struggle…” Following the violence in the US capitol, China’s President Xi Jinping put out a simple statement that, “-time and the situation are in our [China’s] favour.” That is to say nothing of state-controlled media in either country, which has run wild with glee over the outbreak of violence in the United States.
Yet this is more than a minor embarrassment for the United States. Indeed, it is indicative of a larger problem that has developed over the course of the past four years. Donald Trump, as president, has, through his own policies, inadvertently strengthened the United States’ geopolitical rivals. In a show of almost comedic irony, Trump’s America First policy has put American interests last. The world in which we live, one in which the United States is at the centrepiece of everything, from the kingpin of the world economy to the leader of global affairs, may not be so fifty years from now. One might not have even noticed though. The buffoonery and sheer lunacy of the Trump administration played out daily on the nightly news, has distracted us.
And in the meantime, Chinese companies (who exist at the pleasure of the government of China) bought up foreign ports in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. Such is the case in Piraeus, Greece, where China quite happily acquired ownership of shipping operations there. In Africa, Chinese firms build local infrastructure and create jobs, all while making these areas more economically dependent upon the Chinese economy and, by extension, the Chinese government. Russia also has taken advantage of the situation, muscling out American troops in Syria to prop up the brutal Assad regime or doing its best to keep Ukraine mired in conflict while Kyiv struggles to receive aid from the United States. And what has Donald Trump done to address this? Nothing. In fact, he has made the situation worse by pulling the United States out of deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TTP), which was originally conceived as a way of strengthening economic ties in the Pacific and Asia regions. Bereft of the TTP, many smaller states such as Vietnam and the Philippines have sought warmer relations with Beijing as their economies become more intertwined. And what of Trump’s vaunted trade war with China? It sadly suffered a similar fate. Although countries on both ends suffered, the Politburo merely increased trade ties with other partners in the World Trade Organization and opened new markets. Economic and strategic dependence on the PRC has increased.
What does a world that is no longer dominated economically or strategically for the United States mean for the average American? Well, relatively little in terms of day to day life. However, if the United States truly stands for those principles it claims to support, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to live without discrimination, then it must stand with its allies against human rights abuses as well as acknowledge its own failings in that area. America’s strength does not lie in its industry, spirit, or some strange brand of exceptionalism. Rather, its strength lies in the connections and allies that it has around the globe. If it retreats from its place in world politics, then authoritarian powers would be only so happy to take its place.
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