Voltaire quipped that “History is filled with the sound of silken slippers moving down stairs and wooden shoes going up.”
Replace the silk slippers with $400 Air Jordans, and the wooden shoes with the jackboots of the Chinese Communist party, and some would say you’re approaching an accurate look at the world: One great nation in decline, another growing interminably stronger.
But, perhaps — hopefully, even — those thuggish boots trodding ever upward have smacked the riser with a thud and stubbed the delicate toes inside. Coronavirus (though its names vary; more on that later), like any disease, comes in a cloud of confusion and mystery, but some facts are crystal clear.
In late December 2019, Chinese doctor Li Wenliang tried to warn his friends and family privately about a SARS-like disease that had multiple patients quarantined in his Wuhan hospital. His message spread on social media and soon the Chinese government sprung to action … cracking down on “rumormongers” like Dr. Li. Brave doctors fighting this novel disease were told to shut up, or else.
While the Communist Party of China has decades of practice in making individuals be quiet … or else, their control of a microscopic virus proved to be much more tenuous. From Wuhan to West Ashley, the once isolated disease is now a global pandemic; millions of people are quarantined, on lockdown, or bearing the burdens of social distancing.
America needs to heed that “thud” on the staircase of history and evaluate which direction we are walking. For decades, the neoliberal consensus on China has been to treat them no differently than democratic nations like France or Germany or Japan. Granting them “permanent normal trade relations” — the normalizing Orwellian doublespeak for what we once called “most favored nation” status — ended the process of annually renewing our trade situation with China. Optimists in the West posited the change not only for its economic prospects but its social promises — surely, this would break the Communist Party’s stranglehold of repression on their own people, they opined.
Yet the opposite has occurred. It is an open secret that Chinese government concentration camps are filled with ethnic minorities. Chinese citizens live in a high-tech panopticon, where any electronic communication might result in the police knocking on their door. Meanwhile, Western multinational corporations sold their souls for cheap labor and access to a billion-plus person market.
In a single generation, we’ve gone from hearing “Free Tibet” every Oscar night to NBA players kissing up to the Chinese Central Committee.
And now we are in the middle of a global pandemic; no matter what our thoughts and feelings may be about America’s federal and state level responses to the virus, it is a matter of unquestionable fact that the Chinese government lied about the disease, spread rumors and false information about the disease and greatly hindered the rest of the globe’s ability to properly respond to the disease. In a matter of weeks, sometimes days, media outlets went from calling a vigorous response “unnecessary,” “a distraction” or even “racist” to pleading that American officials are not doing enough. How much of that initial response was tainted by Chinese government propaganda? How much time for valuable public communication time and airspace was wasted just on a silly fight regarding what to call the disease: Covid-19, the coronavirus, the Wuhan flu, et cetera?
Today, we must act to save lives. But tomorrow — and for all our tomorrows — we must remember. Communism kills. Totalitarianism kills. Not just for the millions persecuted inside China’s borders, but thanks to our own dodgy decisions — it kills even on our shores. The obliqueness and duplicity of the Red Chinese government kills.
According to Asian affairs expert Gordon Chang, China is claiming they are giving medical equipment to countries hard hit by the disease. Instead, they are selling these items … and they are sometimes substandard, which a Spanish newspaper El Pais reported regarding faulty test kits. It’s time for Americans to realize there are some things — the security of our intellectual property; of our manufacturing base; of our lives themselves — these things cannot be entrusted to a foreign dictatorship.
Surveying the global landscape after the Second World War, Senator Arthur Vandenburg famously declared, “politics stops at the water’s edge.” He acted on it, too; once legendary for his isolationist position, he came to acknowledge that global cooperation was needed in the post-war era, and it needed moral clarity and guidance from America and the Western democracies.
May our politicians, so long hidebound to their party prerogatives instead of the flourishing of the American people, do the same. In this time of external crisis, it is time for such internal politicking to stop — our leaders need to act like leaders and protect the weak and the venerable.
The health and liberty of Chinese people matter; the feelings and international image of the Chinese government do not. When brave Dr. Li died on February 7, his last words were “a healthy society shouldn’t have only one voice.” This is a lesson the Chinese Communist Party will never learn. And for too long, we have exchanged America’s financial security and moral authority for cheap Chinese TV sets: This is where it has gotten us.
Millions of healthy, intelligent, job-ready Americans are now unemployed: There’s still time to turn back and ascend the staircase of history.
May each of you stay safe and healthy and may your households be blessed even in this time of travail.