As a committed democrat, I would dearly love to be able to convince doubters of democracy’s superiority by pointing to its leaders. And in the past that has often been easy. Today, not so much.
This came home to me the other day as I followed the speeches at the current session of the United Nations and was faced with the unavoidable comparison between the most important dictator, Xi Jinping of China, facing off with the most important leader of a democracy, Donald Trump.
Xi presented a rational speech, focussing heavily on the world’s major challenge, global warming. “Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature,” he said, going on to promise carbon neutrality before 2060. He called for a “green revolution,” stating the coronavirus pandemic had shown the need to preserve the environment.
As for China’s relations with the U.S., he vowed to fight neither a cold war nor a hot war with anyone, saying “We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. … Unilateralism is dead.”
Trump, on the other hand, went on a rant that indicated unilateralism is far from dead, sounding very much like a cold warrior, attacking China on everything from emissions to its handling of Covid. He ignored what should be a democrat’s most serious concern about China—its human rights record, particularly its reign of terror against the Uighurs.
After dissing China, he went on to attack the World Health Organization (“virtually controlled by China”) and the UN, scattering falsehoods as he rambled. He had little to say about global warming.
What is it with the English-speaking world? We have produced more democratic leaders than any other culture, yet here we are in the 21st century with the two most important Anglosphere countries led by buffoons.
We do have one consolation, at least. We can easily get rid of them and try to get regain some semblance of rational leadership. The Chinese, on the other hand, are probably stuck with Chairman Xi for his lifetime and even after that there are no guarantees.