How Trump-Comey duel is helping to fuel cynicism about American freedoms in China
Robert Delaney says a Washington hobbled by partisan politics and polarisation, as China continues its meteoric economic rise, weakens the Chinese voices that oppose authoritarian rule and hail the American way of life
Revelations emerge about Donald Trump’s efforts to halt FBI investigations of his associates’ connections with Russians who may have tried to sway the presidential election.
A University of Maryland graduate from mainland China, Yang Shuping, faces a backlash from compatriots for extolling the virtues of American freedom.
It would be a stretch to draw a direct line from one to the other, but not to suggest a correlation.
President Trump said he fired FBI director James Comey as he was troubled by his investigation. Comey’s testimony before a Senate panel revealed more details about Trump’s alleged bid to bury the investigation of former national security advisor Mike Flynn.
For the moment, no one in the US can say for sure whether the alleged activity was obstruction of justice, the kind that could lead to impeachment, or a legal judgement against Trump. Congress, the only body that can remove Trump through a two-step impeachment process, is currently controlled by his party. For most Americans, it’s no surprise that a debate could rage over whether Trump’s motivations and actions were enough to throw him out of the White House.
Watch: Comey says Trump asked him to drop part of Russia probe
But for many Chinese lectured about the rule of law and how no one in the US is above it, Trump’s admission and Comey’s testimony would be an open and shut case of someone operating above the law.
However, for those who have seen the contradictions of US politics – including many of Yang Shuping’s very vocal detractors – the drama playing out in Washington is sweet vindication.
China’s youth hasn’t soured on the US simply because of the embarrassing spectacle of the Trump presidency. Rather, the presidency is a result of a political polarisation that has hampered Washington’s ability to govern. And that’s been on display for a while.
In an earlier age of American politics, Washington struggled to compromise to address the country’s biggest challenges. That was a good problem, as it resulted in lasting bipartisan achievements like the Marshall Plan supporting the economic revival of Western Europe after the second world war; the 1964 Civil Rights Act – led by Democrats; Social Security reform in 1983 – led by Republicans; and welfare reform, led by Democrat president Bill Clinton in 1996.
The history of these initiatives was simultaneously threatening to autocratic governments and an inspiration to reform-minded citizens under their rule. Now, such examples of the integrity of the US political system have vanished.
When the US faced the prospect of an economic meltdown in 2008, an emergency spending bill that most economists agree capped the unemployment rate only just passed – because only three Republicans could be convinced to support it.
Washington is hobbled by extreme ideological polarisation. But there are other factors behind the lack of enthusiasm for American-style freedom.
For one, China’s rapid ascent as an economic power has disproven the idea that authoritarian forms of government always reach a point of diminishing returns economically. Censorship and propaganda also play a significant role in keeping anti-US sentiment intact.
But the US hasn’t shown the world a brand worth buying. The top priority in US politics now is to block the opposing team and dismantle their achievements. The ultimate ambition is to “lock up” whoever leads the other side.
When it comes to the estimation of Washington’s politics by outsiders who have been told that America represents freedom, cynicism should be expected.
For every Chinese student who sees freedom in this blood sport, 10 more see hypocrisy.
Robert Delaney is a US correspondent for the Post based in New York