American Elites Wrongly Predict — and Welcome — American Decline

By Aaron Kliegman

We could be witnessing the moment, when China snatches the mantle of global leadership out of America’s coronavirus-stricken hands, establishing the “Chinese century” that experts have long promised us — at least according to American pundits and journalists.

This narrative of American decline and Chinese ascent because of the ongoing pandemic is everywhere — in newspapers, magazines, television studios, the halls of august think tanks and universities.

Beijing launched a “humanitarian aid blitz” to help countries struggling with the virus, “stepping into a role the West once dominated,” the New York Times reported.

“The Chinese are in a much stronger position” than the US, according to Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group.

“As US struggles to stem coronavirus, China asserts itself as global leader,” read a headline from NBC News.

“China asserts claim to global leadership, mask by mask,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Recognize a theme yet?

“China is winning the coronavirus propaganda war” against the US, Politico claimed.

Experts at the Atlantic Council similarly argued that Beijing is “winning” the “coronavirus response narrative” in Europe.

Other analysts have gone so far as to suggest that the virus could “reshape global order,” ending America’s reign as a global power with China maneuvering to take its place.

Some journalists are even defending Beijing when the Trump administration notes that China is responsible for the pandemic in the first place.

“The pandemic is going to reinforce that the United States is simply not the highly functional, advanced role model it used to be,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He added that the virus could “reinforce the impression that the US has nothing to teach the rest of the world.” (Note the word “reinforce,” which implies the world already thought it had nothing to learn from America.)

The Chinese Communist Party is even citing American journalists in its propaganda, a fair way to return the favor after the American press blindly repeated Beijing’s talking points.

This entire narrative is simply absurd. Spain, Turkey, Slovakia, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic were among several countries that complained about or threw away masks and tests that China sent to fight the coronavirus. It turns out much of Beijing’s medical assistance was faulty or just didn’t work. The media should feel foolish for heralding China’s “humanitarian” campaign, which is only meant to cover up its responsibility for creating the pandemic in the first place, prematurely.

More broadly, America is going to remain the world’s lone superpower, even if China closes the gap between first and second place. China has an aging population that lives in a polluted country with a low level of technological expertise compared to the US. There’s a reason why China feels the need to steal America’s intellectual property for reverse engineering rather than create its own innovations. Moreover, the US still maintains global military supremacy and, most critically, a network of alliances and partnerships with which Beijing can never compete.

That elites would be so wrong analytically about America’s decline is bad enough. That they, especially journalists, would echo Chinese propaganda as Beijing and Washington fight over who started the coronavirus is worse. Most troubling, however, is that these influential Americans seem so eager to welcome China overtaking the US.

It is difficult to describe the eagerness with which reporters and television hosts told the world that America passed China and Italy as the country with the most cases of, and deaths from, the virus. And, until this week, almost no mainstream outlets noted that China is surely concealing the extent of the virus within its borders. The media seemed all too happy to write a story that made America look bad compared to China without giving full context.

Then there are those journalists, such as GQ’s Julia Ioffe, who seem to be reveling in America’s perceived failure to combat the virus. Such voices — and these are real people with major platforms — seem to think China is better suited for global leadership. Apparently, to these elites, a communist police state that crushes dissent and imprisons more than a million ethnic Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps is, somehow, morally superior to America because … well, there is no good argument.

Too many American elites view support for American global leadership as a sign of arrogance and ignorance.

But they also, of course, just don’t like President Trump and want to make him look bad in an effort to bring down his presidency. The media’s campaign to promote China’s ascent is a case in point.

This situation is, in some ways, reminiscent of these same elites trying to brand German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the new “leader of the free world” after Trump became president. In March 2017, for example, Politico published an article titled, “The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump,” which describes the president meeting with Merkel.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, numerous outlets have run articles claiming that Merkel is now the leader of the free world because the president is unfit for and has abandoned the role. Just Google “Merkel leader of the free world” and see how many results pop up. New York magazine just published another article last month, in which the author argues that Merkel, in her response to the coronavirus, is acting like the true leader of the free world.

As with China and the coronavirus today, American elites were eager with Merkel to perpetuate a narrative of American decline with President Trump at the helm. And these elites were clearly enthusiastic about the prospect of America no longer being the global leader — not only because of their views on morality and strategy, but also because of their maniacal drive to hurt President Trump’s reputation.

Of course, Germany can’t be a global leader: It has an impotent military and can’t defend itself, let alone anyone else, largely because of Merkel and Germany’s other political leaders. But the point is that, consistently, American elites — journalists above all — seize on absurd narratives of American decline. They want America to climb down a rung or two on the ladder of global leadership and other, more “appealing” countries to fill the vacuum. It could be China, Germany, or both. Add the bonus of making President Trump look bad, and you have a group of American elites, primarily on the political left, that welcomes stories that hurt their country.

Wrongly predicting such a dark fate is one thing, but actively welcoming it reveals true moral and intellectual rot within America’s intelligentsia. Fortunately, the American people know that their country is a force for good in the world, and that anyone who cares about freedom and prosperity should want another American century over a new Chinese one any day of the week.

Aaron Kliegman is a freelance writer based in Virginia. Previously, he was a staff writer and news editor at the Washington Free Beacon, where he wrote analysis and commentary on foreign policy and national security. Aaron’s work has been published in a range of publications, and he has a master’s degree in international relations. Aaron is now writing regular columns for the Inner Circle as a contributor, and I am excited to have him on the Gingrich 360 team. — Newt