Cringing in the New Year

People across China are celebrating Spring Festival (春节) today, which naturally involves huge transportation bottlenecks this week as millions return home or visit relatives for the highly auspicious occasion. It’s the Year of the Fire Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac. This will be easy for us to remember here in the States, thanks to the incendiary strutting and belligerent crowing of our latest commander in chief. It’s merely a cosmic coincidence, to be fair. Unlike Americans, China’s lunar calendar is completely absolved of responsibility for our impulsive, teenaged choice in executive leadership.

Even if we’d been casting votes for who should host the senior prom after-party, Mr. Trump’s weird and gruesome lack of integrity and character would heavily outweigh the fact that his dad’s mansion is huge.

I wanted to be writing about recent changes in US diplomacy regarding Asia. I thought, foolishly, that after a week of DJT and his all-white alt-stars rattling around in office, we’d mostly be facing self-destructive trade wars and selfish foreign policy initiatives. And we are: this China-watcher can’t even see China through the roiling clouds of smoke given off by all the diplomatic bridges being burned. But there are much more immediate threats. The new administration has succeeded in launching a volley of executive orders which embody a campaign of short-sighted ignorance that…well, completely lives up to DJT’s campaign promises.

If I were a die-hard supporter, I’d be pretty ecstatic. He’s really doing it! The wall! The ban on Muslims! Well, some Muslims. Well, people from certain Muslim-majority nations, with the exception of countries like Saudi Arabia, which happen to have proven links to radical terrorism. But I delve too deep! If I were a die-hard supporter, I’d cheer for the headline and not read too much into the content. It’s a fragile and completely irresponsible way to get through the next four years, but I anticipate it will be the calling card of truly dedicated DJT cheerleaders in the months to come.

The flaws of the DJT approach are already showing, and I don’t just mean flaws in policy or personal character. After all, he’s doing what his supporters want, he’s getting it done with a vengeance. But even his week-one flurry of attacks on environmental regulation, human rights and foreign trade already bely an uncharacteristic pattern of compromise.

As the much-vaunted “Muslim-ban” illustrates, what begins as a fiery tirade from the podium can end up on paper as a vacillating, watered-down attempt to appease both DJT’s soundbite-addicted supporters and the embedded interests of his sycophantic inner circle. Conspicuously absent from sensational reports is the fact that not all Muslim nations are included in the ban, just the ones the administration feels are diplomatically expendable. They are understandably confident that their supporters will continue to abhor fact-checking.

A headline proclaiming the end of Muslim entry into the States will gain the approval of those who already side with DJT, but that same headline will enrage his opponents and, more importantly, galvanize previously hesitant observers into action. In short, those who laid their hopes on Trump will grow complacent, feeling that their work is done, while the number of people he attacks and threatens grows every day, with every stroke of his pen. Politics aside, closing our doors to vulnerable refugee populations and even long-time legal residents is an unforgivable act of cowardice and betrayal.

The repercussions will be disastrous, both domestically and abroad, but we must remember that for the first time, DJT cannot just withdraw his assets and walk away from the mess he makes. Unfortunately, he can still cause enough damage to make us the long-awaited democratic failure China and other single-party states can point to as they pursue thinly-veiled imperialist impulses.

Reading headlines, one might conclude that it’s all over, but in fact it’s only just begun. This week’s frantic outburst of controversial executive orders reeks of desperation: DJT is attempting to consummate his marriage to white America quickly, before the honeymoon is over. I, for one, have sincere doubts that a president who communicates with his nation primarily through 140-character outbursts has the stamina or the fortitude to finish the authoritarian pivot he has so thoughtlessly begun.

2 comments to Cringing in the New Year

  • Respectfully disagree that the ‘outburst of controversial executive orders reeks of desperation’ there at the end. If it reeks of anything, it’s of confidence, impatience and a legislative novice’s exuberance. It is far too early in his term, and his orders are far too popular for ‘desperation’ to be the right description. His fans love him for making so much progress so quickly.

  • Occam's Safety Razor

    “this China-watcher can’t even see China through the roiling clouds of smoke given off by all the diplomatic bridges being burned.” Good grief, J.H., how does the NYT manage without you? Hope you find time for more, and maybe an Eavesdropper special edition head-to-head with Michael Morley.

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