When we eventually recover from the novel coronavirus pandemic, there may be hell to pay for China’s government – and it could be the start of another Cold War, this time with a different dictatorship across the Pacific Ocean. It’s also a golden opportunity to bridge our widening and increasingly ugly political divide and unite against a common enemy.
But first a surreal anecdote from 40-plus years ago to explain my thinking:
I vividly remember a college professor of mine freshman year at Boston University who taught us about the People’s Republic of China. There was a gleam in his squinty eyes when he spoke of Chairman Mao Zedong, despite the fact that his leadership was largely responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million Chinese between famine and the Cultural Revolution. Some estimates place the gruesome death toll as high as 45 million. It made the country’s Great Leap Forward seem like a race back to the Dark Ages with some historians arguing that Mao had more blood on his hands than Hitler and Stalin.
He couldn’t help but hide his twisted admiration for Mao, which wasn’t surprising considering he was the most ultra-liberal professor I ever had short of Howard Zinn, author of the “A People’s History of the United States,” a living legend who was known on campus as the chief Communist in residence.
The irony was his balding appearance and reddish goatee very much resembled another iron-fisted Communist leader, Vladimir Lenin, mastermind of the Bolshevik Revolution that powered the former Soviet Union. His students would snicker about that comparison behind his back, as well as mimic his unusual voice and mannerisms.
At the time it seemed odd that an educator would gloss over atrocities and gush about a cult of personality before such impressionable young minds, however well intentioned Mao’s mission might have been in uncovering the inequities of class warfare. Years later I cringe that such an important piece of history could be presented in such now-comically lopsided and highly irresponsible fashion.
The fact is that Mainland China is a paradox full of hypocrisy – a Communist nation that allowed “Creeping Capitalism” under Deng Xiaoping to flourish. Under Mao’s successor, the world’s largest workforce mastered the art of mass producing products at the lowest possible cost without a hint of innovation. Such cheap labor became synonymous with poor quality. The Chinese government also have for years allowed the stealing of intellectual property.
One consistency since the latter half of the 20th century is that China, a cloistered society once described as the Great Sleeping Giant long been poised for world dominance, has been brutally suppressant toward its own citizens.
Doing business with China during the pandemic can literally and figuratively be hazardous to our health. Many of the roughly 90 companies selling antibody tests that determine whether people built immunity to the coronavirus are based in China, many of which failed. The Chinese government also has stood accused of price gouging not only on diagnostic tests for Covid-19, but also basic medical equipment for a crisis it caused. Another worry has been the government’s complicity in the spread of disinformation about this topic.
If these stark developments don’t outrage people to their core, then we’re in big trouble. The fact is that China botched containment of a regional virus that triggered a pandemic and worldwide recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen on our shores since the Great Depression. There are now 33 million Americans out of work with an unemployment rate of more than 20%. Getting angrier? I sure am. My livelihood and daily routine were disrupted in ways I could never have imagined.
Comedian Bill Maher recently admonished the politically correct police for crying racism over early descriptions of the Wuhan virus and generic references thereafter to the China virus. He pointed out how it’s customary for infectious disease experts to name ailments after regions where they originated, using Lyme Disease as one such example (a small coastal town in my home state of Connecticut). Let’s not get hysterical over how we might feel about labels. Facts are facts.
What I’d like to see moving forward is blanket condemnation of China from around the globe, as well as intensive pressure on that brutally secretive government to be transparent and reasonable. We can apply that same litmus test to the World Health Organization, which critics have lambasted for hiding or downplaying early threats to placate China, which is the largest source of financial assistance to the WHO.
At any rate, let’s start with the threat of sanctions forcing China to end the sale of exotic animals such as bats at so-called wet markets, the widely accepted cause of Covid-19. If those efforts fail, which I suspect they may, we can only hope that there’s another attempt at democracy that mirrors the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989 – one that finally succeeds. But we also must vastly reduce our dependence on China and outsource work to other countries or find a way to cost-effectively return much of that labor to our country.
In the U.S., the time has come for Democrats and Republicans to stop accusing each other of mishandling this crisis and join forces. Trump needs to stop demonizing anyone who disagrees with him, including the media. GOP leaders must do the same. But in all fairness, the media and president’s political opponents also need to stop demonizing him. We have an election in November. Let the people decide at that time who should and shouldn’t be in power.
Let’s end the Divided States of America, restore the United States of America and cast blame where it belongs: China’s government. Finger pointing during a serious crisis both nationwide and worldwide is a failure in leadership.
We’re all in this together, just like after the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Great War, the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11, the Great Recession and now Covid-19. The future is ours to determine. If we repeat mistakes of the past, then we place ourselves in mortal peril. But if we rise to the occasion and embrace common ground, then we will emerge a stronger country.