Reagan Reincarnate?

February 28, 2017

I have been writing so much about Trump and the follies surrounding his administration that this blog has detoured a bit from my observations on China and the rest of Asia, so I am considering a new site dedicated to that man and his insanity.  While I work that out, I will continue to use this space to call out the absurdity of his policies.

I was heartened to see House Minority Nancy Pelosi calling out Trump for doing nothing on Sunday’s “This Week” on ABC.  While I don’t always think Pelosi is the most effective leader of Democrats in the House, I did like her term “deflector-in-chief” which is the point I was making in a previous post.  The transgender bathroom brouhaha is nothing more than Trump trying to make it appear like he’s doing something when he’s really not done much at all since taking office.

Now we get to see the contours of a Trump federal budget, which calls for increases in military spending on roughly US$54 billion and a similar amount of cuts in programs and departments including the EPA and foreign aid at State.  I’m not sure how another $54 billion in the military budget helps ensure that America “put[s] and will put its own citizens first”, as Trump insisted he was going to do in his CPAC speech.  Perhaps all that extra military is just another way to bring jobs back to America since our defense contractors are presumably manufacturing their wares in the US.  If Trump thinks more military spending is putting Americans first by protecting us from threats from abroad, it makes little sense to cut the State Department budget when diplomacy should go hand-in-hand with any military might.  I also don’t know what conventional military threat we’ve faced on our shores since Pearl Harbor, but perhaps he’s developing some top-secret missile shield, though I am sure that would cost a lot more than $54 billion.  So back to my point – if he wants to put Americans first (whatever that really means), why cut diplomacy when that can be just as effective in keeping the world safe?  Even better, where is his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would truly put Americans first by creating jobs and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure that millions of Americans rely on daily.

What this initial budget announcement really amounts to is an obvious lack of understanding of how government works on Trump and his advisors’ part, as well as a blatant example of the hypocrisy that runs rampant in his administration.  Take Trump’s brilliant realization on reforming the health care system, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”  Have you ever heard anything more insightful?

Reading the news each morning, I more often than not end up with a headache because some of it just makes no sense.  I mean, on one hand we have this crazy opening gambit on a budget while our president comments on the Oscars  (politics was the reason for the Best Picture mistake)  or making comments at the National Governors Association about imaginary tiles falling from the tunnels under NY’s rivers.  The man should focus on running the country rather than weighing in on awards shows or falsely putting down our nation’s infrastructure without coming up with a plan to fix it.

I struggle to understand this man, but a friend of mine had one theory on his behavior, especially in light of his push to increase military spending and our nuclear capabilities. Trump thinks he is the reincarnate of Ronald Reagan and in the process is attempting to resurrect the 80s, which coincidentally is also the time when Trump came anything close to being a baller.  It’s one possible explanation that’s certainly plausible, but doesn’t fully explain the crazy coming out of D.C.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the sound of nothing.  My A/C had stopped working at some point and I slowly realized that the power was down.  However, unlike the States where you can call the electric company and find out what made the power go out, I just waited because this is China and this is what occasionally happens. 

This past Wednesday evening, I had dinner with Professor Cai Yanmin, founder of Zhongda’s legal clinic and a civil procedure specialist at the law school, who was the subject of a very interesting Wall Street Journal law blog post.  I read this post back in June and I really wanted to meet her and now here I was dining at a Hunanese restaurant in GZ with Professor Cai and five of her postgraduate students.  She’s a pretty amazing woman with a deep knowledge and respect not just for Chinese law, but for the rule of law, too.  At dinner, the students peppered with some difficult questions such as, “What do you think of the Chinese government?”  At this point, I paused for a good minute and first said something to the effect of how difficult it would be for any government to govern over 1.3 billion people.  Then I dispensed with some of the pleasantries and told the table that at times I thought the government made decisions not in the people’s best interest, but with solely in their own best interest to maintain their grip on power.  Of course that prompted a response from Professor Cai that all governments act with a certain degree of self-interest, a point with which I agree, but I countered that at least in the US we can vote out a government that acts too often out of its self-interest, ignoring the people.  Then someone else at the table said that the Chinese people can vote for their government, too.  I inquired further and I was told that they can vote for the representatives to the National People’s Congress, the same body one of the otherstudents ten minutes earlier had described as agreeing with everything the government does.  However, the conclusion was that since the Congress picks the top leaders, the people can indirectly choose the top leaders.  This conclusion fails to account for the fact that there is only one party and you must be a member of this party to run for Congress, thus there is only an illusion of choice.  I then asked the students what they thought of the American government and I confronted five blank faces before one student spoke and told me that they really did not know anything about the US, except what they have seen on American television shows like Friends and movies. It’s difficult to have a two-way conversation when knowledge of America runs as deep as whether Ross and Rachel are together or apart.  I understand that most Americans may not know much about China, but these are educated Chinese students who presumably have an interest in the larger world and I was just astounded that they could not offer up any opinion on the US government.  We also talked about the presidential election and they all like Obama, but mainly because he is young and handsome.  The students were concerned about US policy towards China, but aside from hoping that the US stop giving weapons to Taiwan, they could not offer any other suggestions as to how to craft a more productive US-China policy.  I have an American friend who is enrolled in a master’s program in International Relations (国际 关系) here at Zhongda to learn more about the Chinese perspective on the topic.  He told me about a moment in class where the professor asked the predominantly Chinese class what the US’ foreign policy towards China should be and he was greeted with silence as the entire class looked to my friend to provide the American perspective, nevermind that the professor asked the Chinese students.  Realizing he was not going to elicit an answer from his students, he just dropped the question and moved on to something completely different.  There is a real inability on the part of Chinese students to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and think about things from a different perspective.  This skill is something that in the West we are trained to do at such a young age, such as when we have debates in elementary school.  It is something I am trying to get my students to do in my classes, whether it’s thinking about the Bill of Rights as one of the Founding Fathers or taking a position on abortion that they may not agree with.  I have also heard that this inability may also stem from the fact that Chinese people generally do not worry about big things like international relations, but instead leave those things for the State to deal with while they concern themselves with their day-to-day.  However, this explanation is not wholly satisfactory because these students are enrolled in a master’s program in IR, which means they presumably want a career that deals with these big things, thus they should be able to proffer an opinion on these questions.  I don’t have the exact answer for why this is so, but it something I hope to explore more as the year progresses.