President Barack Obama recently completed a three-day tour of China as part of his week-long Asia trip. He held a town hall meeting with students in Shanghai and visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City between meetings with Chinese leadership in Beijing. What can we glean about the future of these two countries based on his visit?
Obama’s town hall in Shanghai pleased me greatly. His silver tongue was on full display in appeasing the Chinese with conciliatory praise and refined humility. Humility, a word I would rarely associate with American politicians, is an extremely important in Asian cultures. He was not forceful, he was not arrogant, and he was the first to point out America’s hypocrisies. I think that this was something the Chinese wanted and needed to hear from an American leader.
Chinese students in Shanghai were shocked, appalled, incredulous, and generally uncomfortable at President Obama’s town hall meeting yesterday afternoon.
The audience, made up of carefully-screened students from several Shanghai universities, was stunned that a head of state could have a personality and speak to them as if they were real people. “We expected to be addressed en masse like subjects,” said Jiaotong University student Wang Jiabo. “It was strange and unnerving to be drawn into a discussion.”
The question confronting the American electorate is this: are we a decadent power? This query should not be misconstrued; I am not sure whether America’s finest days are behind her, nor is the goal of this essay to prove that they are. Rather the following must be understood as an attempt to understand the full implications of the current electoral cycle.
The past does not guarantee the future. Although the United States will still be the preeminent power in the world in 2012 regardless of who is elected as the next President, there is significant danger that the 2008 election could mark the beginning of the end of the American Century.
As someone living in Beijing, I am constantly bombarded with propaganda—from red-letter posters telling me that “we are building a harmonious bus station and society,” to ones that proclaim “it is everyone’s job to prevent fires,” and the other innumerable mottos about the Olympics and the importance of social harmony, I’ve seen it all. Because I live in a country in which propaganda is the norm, I’ve become acutely aware of its presence in the United States. While this piece is not meant to be all encompassing, I’d like to make a few points about framing and then discuss two words that have come into vogue in America in recent months: “surge” and “insurgent.”