Making China Great Again

As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.

The hero, Leng Feng, played by the action star Wu Jing (who also directed the film), is a veteran of the “wolf warriors,” special forces of the People’s Liberation Army. In retirement, he works as a guard in a fictional African country, on the frontier of China’s ventures abroad. A rebel army, backed by Western mercenaries, attempts to seize power, and the country is engulfed in civil war. Leng shepherds civilians to the gates of the Chinese Embassy, where the Ambassador wades into the battle and declares, “Stand down! We are Chinese! China and Africa are friends.” The rebels hold their fire, and survivors are spirited to safety aboard a Chinese battleship.

.. For decades, Chinese nationalism revolved around victimhood: the bitter legacy of invasion and imperialism, and the memory of a China so weak that, at the end of the nineteenth century, the philosopher Liang Qichao called his country “the sick man of Asia.” “Wolf Warrior II” captures a new, muscular iteration of China’s self-narrative, much as Rambo’s heroics expressed the swagger of the Reagan era.

.. “In the past, all of our movies were about, say, the Opium Wars—how other countries waged war against China,” he said. “But Chinese people have always wanted to see that our country could, one day, have the power to protect its own people and contribute to peace in the world.”

.. For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.

.. Trump often portrays America’s urgent task as one of survival. As he put it during the campaign, “At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves’? So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that, but, at the same time, our country is disintegrating.”
.. China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
.. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.
.. This was an ironic performance—for decades, China has relied on protectionism—but Trump provided an irresistible opening. China is negotiating with at least sixteen countries to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade zone that excludes the United States, which it proposed in 2012 as a response to the T.P.P. If the deal is signed next year, as projected, it will create the world’s largest trade bloc, by population.
.. By setting more of the world’s rules, China hopes to “break the Western moral advantage,” which identifies “good and bad” political systems
.. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese vice-minister of public security, became the first Chinese president of Interpol, the international police organization; the move alarmed human-rights groups, because Interpol has been criticized for helping authoritarian governments target and harass dissidents and pro-democracy activists abroad.

.. Moreover, China’s economic path is complicated by heavy debts, bloated state-owned enterprises, rising inequality, and slowing growth. The workers who once powered China’s boom are graying.

.. In 2000, the U.S. accounted for thirty-one per cent of the global economy, and China accounted for four per cent. Today, the U.S.’s share is twenty-four per cent and China’s fifteen per cent.

.. in the past we were used to going to the White House to get our work done,” Shivshankar Menon, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security adviser to the Prime Minister, told me. “Now we go to the corporations, to Congress, to the Pentagon, wherever.”

.. everybody else in the world will look around and say, I want to be friends with both the U.S. and the Chinese—and the Chinese are ready, and I’ll start with them.”

.. He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”

.. The state press ran a profile of Xi that was effusive even by the standards of the form, depicting him as an “unrivalled helmsman,” whose “extensive knowledge of literature and the arts makes him a consummate communicator in the international arena.”

.. Xi has inscribed on his country a rigid vision of modernity. A campaign to clean up “low-end population” has evicted migrant workers from Beijing, and a campaign against dissent has evicted the most outspoken intellectuals from online debate.

.. Foreign universities with programs in China, such as Duke, have been advised that they must elevate a Communist Party secretary to a decision-making role on their local boards of trustees.

.. The Party is encouraging dark imaginings about the outside world: posters warn the public to “protect national secrets” and to watch out for “spies.”

.. Last June, Yao Chen, one of China’s most popular actresses, received a barrage of criticism online after she tried to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. (She was forced to clarify that she was not calling for China to accept refugees.)

.. In Rao’s view, Trump’s “America First” slogan is an honest declaration, a realist vision stripped of false altruism and piety.

.. “In this world, power speaks,” he said, making a fist, a gesture that Trump adopted in his Inauguration speech and Xi displayed in a photo taken at the start of his new term.

.. “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.

.. In 1991, when Bush, Sr., launched the war against Iraq, it got thirty-four countries to join the war effort. This time, if Trump launched a war against anyone, I doubt he would get support from even five countries.

.. For Chinese leaders, Yan said, “Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity.” I asked Yan how long he thought the opportunity would last. “As long as Trump stays in power,” he replied.

.. When Trump won, the Party “was in a kind of shock,”

.. “They feared that he was their mortal enemy.” The leadership drafted potential strategies for retaliation, including threatening American companies in China and withholding investment from the districts of influential members of Congress.

.. Before he entered the White House, China started assembling a playbook for dealing with him.

.. “China knows Trump can be unpredictable, so we have weapons to make him predictable, to contain him. He would trade Taiwan for jobs.”

.. there were two competing strategies on China. One, promoted by Stephen Bannon, then the chief strategist, wanted the President to take a hard line, even at the risk of a trade war. Bannon often described China as a “civilizational challenge.” The other view was associated with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who had received guidance from Henry Kissinger and met repeatedly with the Chinese Ambassador, Cui Tiankai. Kushner argued for a close, collegial bond between Xi and Trump, and he prevailed.

.. While Xi was at the resort, the Chinese government approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, clearing the way for her to sell jewelry, handbags, and spa services in China.

.. During the transition, Kushner dined with Chinese business executives while the Kushner Companies was seeking their investment in a Manhattan property.

.. In May, Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, was found to have mentioned his White House position while she courted investors during a trip to China.

.. During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back.

.. “Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,”

.. “The Chinese felt like they had Trump’s number,” he said. “Yes, there is this random, unpredictable Ouija-board quality to him that worries them, and they have to brace for some problems, but, fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’ Because he hasn’t delivered on any of his threats. There’s no wall on Mexico. There’s no repeal of health care. He can’t get the Congress to back him up. He’s under investigation.”

.. a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.”

.. The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”

The Republican Waterloo

Conservatives once warned that Obamacare would produce the Democratic Waterloo. Their inability to accept the principle of universal coverage has, instead, led to their own defeat.

.. At precisely the moment we were urging the GOP to march in one direction, the great mass of conservatives and Republicans had turned on the double in the other, toward an ever more wild and even paranoid extremism. Those were the days of Glenn Beck’s 5 o’clock Fox News conspiracy rants, of Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” of Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers, of Tea Party rallies at which men openly brandished assault rifles.

.. AEI would provide a home for the emerging “reform conservative” tendency. Its president, Arthur Brooks, would speak eloquently of the need for conservatives to show concern for the poor and the hard-pressed working class.

.. The mood then was that supporters and opponents of the Obama administration were engaged in a furious battle over whether the United States would remain a capitalist economy at all.

.. it was precisely because I appreciated its unwelcomeness where I worked that I had launched an independent blog in the first place.
.. I fruitlessly argued through 2009 and 2010 that Republicans should do business with President Obama on health-care reform.
.. It seemed to me that Obama’s adoption of ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s—and then enacted into state law in Massachusetts by Governor Mitt Romney—offered the best near-term hope to control the federal health-care spending that would otherwise devour the defense budget and force taxes upward.
.. I suggested that universal coverage was a worthy goal, and one that would hugely relieve the anxieties of working-class and middle-class Americans who had suffered so much in the Great Recession.
.. They had the votes this time to pass something. They surely would do so—and so the practical question facing Republicans was whether it would not be better to negotiate to shape that “something” in ways that would be less expensive, less regulatory, and less redistributive.
.. Increasingly isolated and frustrated, I watched with dismay as people I’d known for years and decades incited each other to jump together over the same cliff.

.. There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or—more exactly—with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters—but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say—but what is equally true—is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed—if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office—Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

.. Over the next seven years, Republicans would vote again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Total and permanent opposition to the law would become the absolute touchstone of Republican loyalty. Even Donald Trump, who dissented from so much of the old orthodoxy, retained this piece of the doxology.

.. Some of the conservatives who voted “no” to the House leadership’s version of repeal may yet imagine that they will have some other opportunity to void the law. They are again deluding themselves.

.. Too many people benefit from the law—and the Republican alternatives thus far offer too little to compensate for the loss of those benefits.

.. America committed itself for the first time to the principle of universal (or near universal) health-care coverage. That principle has had seven years to work its way into American life and into the public sense of right and wrong. It’s not yet unanimously accepted. But it’s accepted by enough voters—and especially by enough Republican voters—to render impossible the seven-year Republican vision of removing that coverage from those who have gained it under the Affordable Care Act.

.. Paul Ryan still upholds the right of Americans to “choose” to go uninsured if they cannot afford to pay the cost of their insurance on their own. His country no longer agrees.

.. Health care may not be a human right, but the lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unjustifiable, and unnecessary human wrong.

.. As Americans lift this worry from their fellow citizens, they’ll discover that they have addressed some other important problems too. They’ll find that they have removed one of the most important barriers to entrepreneurship, because people with bright ideas will fear less to quit the jobs through which they get their health care.

.. They’ll find they have improved the troubled lives of the white working class succumbing at earlier ages from preventable deaths of despair.

.. What I would urge is that those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes

  • intransigence,
  • radicalism, and
  • anger over
  • prudence,
  • moderation, and
  • compassion.

Cutting Taxes Is Hard. Trump Is Making It Harder.

President Trump said on Monday that he would oppose any effort to reduce the amount of pretax income that American workers can save in 401(k) retirement accounts, effectively killing an idea that Republicans were mulling as a way to help pay for a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

The directive, issued via Twitter, underscored a growing fear among Republicans and business lobbyists that Mr. Trump’s bully-pulpit whims could undermine the party’s best chance to pass the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in decades.

.. Mr. Trump hosted House Republicans in the Rose Garden to celebrate passage of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, only to call the same bill “mean” later.

.. Mr. Trump “can shift on a dime, and he has many unformed policy positions,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania. “We have to worry about him shifting positions.”

.. Republicans are also discussing whether to raise the top income tax rate for top earners and jettisoning a proposal to eliminate the estate tax.

.. Reducing 401(k) contribution limits would force retirement savers to pay more in taxes today, as they sock away money, but less in the future, when they begin withdrawing retirement funds.

.. “Trump engages in fits and starts and then undermines his side’s negotiating positions half the time,”

.. “He doesn’t care about the details of tax reform, or Obamacare repeal and replace, and thus inserting himself into the negotiations has been largely counterproductive to date.”

.. What privately alarms even supporters of Mr. Trump’s on Capitol Hill is the possibility that he cannot stomach unpopular issues. Such supporters often point to President Ronald Reagan’s championing of the 1986 tax reform bill, which eliminated many business tax preferences, as a contrast to Mr. Trump’s recent actions.

That same dynamic could also be a benefit for industry groups, which may be able to rout a proposal by portraying a change as going against public sentiment.

.. Many observers in Washington say Mr. Trump has frequently promised more than he can deliver, again pointing to the health care debate, where he campaigned on a promise to provide better, lower-cost coverage to more Americans.

Others point to Mr. Trump’s promises on the budget, where he vowed to

  • reduce the federal deficit and
  • pay down the national debt, while
  • both cutting taxes and
  • leaving two major safety-net spending programs, Medicare and Social Security, untouched.

.. “the president has never met a hard choice he was willing to make.”

Trump May Be Following Palin’s Trajectory

Support for her cooled due to antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

The president has been understandably confident in his supporters. They appreciate his efforts, admire his accomplishments (Justice Neil Gorsuch, ISIS’ setbacks), claim bragging rights for possibly related occurrences (the stock market’s rise), and feel sympathy for him as an outsider up against the swamp. They see his roughness as evidence of his authenticity, so he doesn’t freak them out every day. In this they are like Sarah Palin’s supporters, who saw her lack of intellectual polish as proof of sincerity. At her height, in 2008, she had almost the entire Republican Party behind her, and was pushed forward most forcefully by those who went on to lead Never Trump. But in time she lost her place through antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

The same may well happen—or be happening—with Donald Trump.

One reason is that there is no hard constituency in America for political incompetence, and that is what he continues to demonstrate.
He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented. The story of this presidency so far is his inability to do this. He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings.

.. He acts as if he takes them for granted. He does not dance with the ones that brung him.

.. Soon after, Mr. Trump called Myeshia Johnson, widow of Army sergeant La David T. Johnson, and reached her in the car on the way to receive her husband’s casket. Someone put the call on speakerphone. A Democratic congresswoman in the car later charged that Trump had been disrespectful. In fairness, if the congresswoman quoted him accurately, it is quite possible that “He knew what he was signing up for” meant, in the president’s mind, “He heroically signed up to put his life on the line for his country,”

.. Mr. Kelly, in a remarkable White House briefing Thursday, recounted what Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told then-Gen. Kelly in 2010, when Robert died: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. . . . He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”

.. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.

.. This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

.. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”

.. FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti.

.. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”

That, actually, is how presidents talk.

.. I get a lot of mail saying this is all about style—people pick on Mr. Trump because he isn’t smooth, doesn’t say the right words. “But we understand him.” “Get over these antiquated ideas of public dignity, we’re long past that.” But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.

.. the president absolutely has to win on tax reform after his embarrassing loss on ObamaCare. He shouldn’t be in this position, with his back to the wall.

.. Mr. Trump should keep his eye on Sarah Palin’s social media profile. She has 1.4 million Twitter followers, and herFacebook page has a “Shop Now” button.

The Antidote to Steve Bannon

One irony of Washington these days is that a press corps that claims to loathe right-wing political operative Steve Bannon can’t get enough of him. The media broadcast his every utterance, cheering on his declaration of “civil war” against Republicans in Congress.

.. “It’s a symptom of a greater problem. If we don’t cut taxes and we don’t eventually repeal and replace ObamaCare, then we’re going to lose across the board in the House in 2018. And all of my colleagues running in primaries in 2018 will probably get beat. It will be the end of [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell as we know it.”

..  “Mitch McConnell is not our problem. Our problem is that we promised to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and we failed. We promised to cut taxes, and we’ve yet to do it. If we’re successful, Mitch McConnell is fine. If we’re not, we’re all in trouble, we lose our majority, and I think President Trump will not get re-elected.”

.. Mr. Bannon is recruiting carpetbaggers or multiple-race losers, but they’ll have a chance if Republicans can’t deliver on their campaign promises. Mr. Bannon’s best enablers are the GOP Senators who killed health reform: Susan Collins, John McCain, Rand Paul and Lisa Murkowski. If they want to make Mr. Bannon a kingmaker, they’ll do the same on tax reform.

GOP Dysfunction Will Paralyze the Conservative Base in 2018 

If Republicans can’t get their act together, they will pay at the polls.

.. Republicans reputedly control majorities in both houses of Congress. A GOP chief executive itches to deploy his signature pen. Regardless, senators from President Trump’s own party concoct excuses to avoid forwarding bills to his desk

.. The free-market, conservative movement is blessed with hardworking, dedicated, and idealistic (in the best sense) donors, scholars, opinion journalists, broadcasters, and activists. Alas, we are doomed by flaccid, nearly non-existent congressional leadership, “so-called Republicans” (in President Trump’s words) who crave big government, and libertarian utopians who — on too many issues — will reject significant policy improvements while demanding nothing less than a live-action version of Atlas Shrugged.

.. The free-market, conservative movement is blessed with hardworking, dedicated, and idealistic (in the best sense) donors, scholars, opinion journalists, broadcasters, and activists. Alas, we are doomed by flaccid, nearly non-existent congressional leadership, “so-called Republicans” (in President Trump’s words) who crave big government, and libertarian utopians who — on too many issues — will reject significant policy improvements while demanding nothing less than a live-action version of Atlas Shrugged.

.. he should have yanked their committee assignments. This perfectly illustrates McConnell’s problem: He is neither loved nor feared. He is barely respected. Mainly, he is disregarded

.. The end of reconciliation means that any new repeal-and-replacement bill will need 60 votes, rather than 51. The need to recruit at least eight Democrats to push a new healthcare bill over the filibuster threshold will move it, ipso facto, to the left of GCHJ. Perhaps Rand Paul and Ted Cruz can explain how this would advance capitalism and freedom.

.. “Collins’ state would have received a 43 percent increase in federal healthcare funding” from GCHJ, health-policy expert Betsy McCaughey of the London Center for Policy Research tells me. “She was cowed by the rhetoric and demagoguery.”

.. McCain left intact a calamitous law that lacked bipartisan support and jacked up the average Arizonan’s premiums last year by 116 percent.

.. Come 2018, the Republican Party will need these patriots to knock on doors, man phone banks, attend get-out-the-vote rallies, and of course, cast ballots. Watching Republicans stagger from one self-inflicted defeat to another will unleash a pandemic of learned helplessness on the Right. If repeatedly campaigning hard for Republican candidates achieves so little, why knock ourselves out a year from now?

.. GOP powerbrokers worry that inability to deliver while in full control of government will enrage the grassroots and depress turnout of a broader electorate that could wonder what’s the point of reelecting a Republican House and Senate.”