Time for troubled West to discard bias over China's achievements

US analyst sees the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China as an example of what grown-ups trying to tackle major problems in a mature way look like.

Greg Cusack

I am following closely news about the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

I have mentioned previously how much I admire the idea of setting — and tracking — five-year goals for important policy matters.

Not only does it keep the Party (and the people) focused on long-term goals (unlike in the US where we lurch from one short-term idea, however wacky, to another) but also to bravely allow all to track over time how well the government is moving to achieve those goals.

Also, especially in contrast to American politics these days, China’s political assemblies — in conduct, speeches, and subject matter — seem so mature compared to our own embarrassingly juvenile performances.

According to the political correctness hammered into my head most of my life, I know that I am supposed to regard China’s political affairs as “only” those of a “one-party” state that “little tolerates” dissent of any sort. Yet those formulaic ideas nowadays just roll off my back as water off a duck.

Instead, I see an example of what grown-ups trying to tackle major problems in a mature, thoughtful way look like!

Better off without fake ‘news’

I am not unaware of China’s efforts to “control” what its citizens can access — or, for that matter, do or say — on the Web.

But looking at so much of what cascades through the Web outside China — outright trash, lies, fake “news,” and unceasing attempts to get people riled up and angry, China may be better off for it.

I recognize this is an alarming thing for an American to say, for I am supposed to be for “freedom of speech” at all costs, but I think China better understands the potential costs of unregulated speech.

For several years now I have been reading deeply on political science and history to better understand various forms of government — and their subsequent records — in order to discern which form, if any, is “the best.”

While it is easily apparent that vicious dictatorships are absolutely the worst, it is not at all clear to me that “democracies” have it hands down over, say, monarchies or certain other forms of government.

The key seems to lie in the proof of governance: what policies does that government follow and how do they impact the mass of citizens?

What China has achieved in the past 70 years or so is actually remarkable; I am unaware of any comparable achievement anywhere or anytime.

Could this have been accomplished in a Western-style multi-party republic? Perhaps, but I suspect the constant jostling for power that so characterizes rival parties in Western republics (whether parliamentary in nature or not) would more likely have led to shorter-term goals, perhaps erratic and highly interruptive starts and stops depending upon political personalities, and a lot of angry finger-pointing. In short, much greater noise with, perhaps, much less achievement.

When I get through the mental filters of my cultural and political upbringing, I can ask myself clearly: Why in the world would President Xi want to imitate the West, given its tattered and shameful record of the past several centuries?

Why would he want to allow the trash and angry voices only intent upon stirring things up without offering anything of alternative value to infiltrate Chinese media or the Web? Would I? No!

It’s exceedingly strange how estranged I increasingly feel from my country. Some of it, I suppose, is simply a consequence of getting older. As I sat down to write this piece, I realized that I have come to feel increasingly “above” much of what is happening, not in the sense of “superior to” or “better than,” but, rather, as less invested in it.

Just as I have spent part of my retirement years reviewing and taking ownership of all of my life up to this point — the good as well as the bad, the achievements as well as the missteps — and, thus, gaining a better understanding of what ideas and behaviors I wished to continue to affirm as well as those I intended to jettison, so also have I found myself casting a clear eye — as free as possible from distorting nationalistic lenses — upon the history of my country and, indeed, of “the West” itself.

We have not become the kind of country that I had hoped we would become back in the ‘60s, nor what I fought for as an elected official.

Rather, we — and I include in this “we” the majority of citizens who give all too little thought to where the country is going — have somehow elected to, or allowed us to, follow a downward course of greed and self above “the many,” while all the while humming nonsense nursery rhymes about how “wonderful” this country is and how “noble” are our pursuits compared to others.

Yes, it is the “leaders” who have done this, but it is by the complicity of the citizenry that it has been allowed.

So, amazingly, I am now free to admire many things about China, including those not usually welcomed in the West. Among these is the absolute need, in my opinion, to revisit the entire issue of “freedom of speech.”

Hateful speech hurts

Despite all the legal niceties that keep so many “liberals” defending any and all speech as protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment, I discern a rather definite line between that which legitimately airs complaints about, or proposals for, government policies or actions — with an eye towards improving things — and that “speech” which is intended to be purely inflammatory, derogatory, or hateful.

The latter ought not to enjoy protection at all! We ought not only to purge the internet of such talk, but also ban the kind of mob hatred that manifested itself in Charlottesville a few weeks ago.

One of the seemingly fatal flaws of democracies is that they are quite slow to detect fatal poisons within their midst.

The truth is: some persons and factions do not mean the country and its citizens well. Why they should be allowed to extol their poison and spread it is beyond me.

The author was a member of the Iowa State House of Representatives and also served in the Iowa executive branch. He retired in 2004.Shanghai Daily condensed the article.

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