The concept of President Xi Jinping’s China Dream is all about the rejuvenation of Chinese culture and its glorious history. His nationalistic approach is similar to that of the “America First” rhetoric of President Donald Trump, who has shaken the myth of long lasting “American exceptionalism.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago “Winter White House” on April 6, 2017 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo Courtesy of the Voice of America.)
After the two presidents met at Mar-a-Lago “Winter White House” in Florida, it is worth revisiting these vital concepts as Beijing itself uses America’s strategic elements of its historic development to realize the China Dream.
Trump is the first U.S. president to reject the idea of American exceptionalism explicitly, saying it is “not a nice term.” Referring to America’s violent and warring history in world affairs, Trump campaigned for a set of nationalistic policies under the political slogan of “America First.” The notion of this “Trumpire” was opposite of his opponent Hillary Clinton. She championed a different but traditional vision of a globalized America, believing exceptionalism in international engagement as the “indispensable nation.”
With the new leader in the White House, President Xi also echoed the Chinese version of liberal international order and globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as if China intends to take on global leadership vacated by President Trump’s taking back “America First” policy.
Trump “Takes Back America”
The idea of American exceptionalism traces back to the European settlers who arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Escaping from religious persecution in Europe, these Pilgrims had chosen Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to create the “shining city upon a hill.” The desire of these Puritans for religious freedom inspired the founding generation, especially Thomas Jefferson.
The Founding Fathers of the United States gave birth to a republic that was essentially nurtured by the vision of Alexander Hamilton, the archrival of Jefferson. Hamilton was inspired by the entrepreneurial zeal of colonists who found the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. As the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the primary architect of American governing mechanism and the visionary of its capitalistic economic system; thus, creating a cosmopolitan, commercial, and industrial nation as opposed to a Jeffersonian “Empire of Liberty” with yeoman farmers in hamlets untouched by the so-called corrupting influence of bankers and financiers.
During the earlier years of the republic until the Opium Wars in China and the Civil War in America, the United States became a prosperous and wealthy nation through the China trade. The Hamiltonian framework has long been the driving force in American prosperity to achieve Jeffersonian ends of greater freedom and liberty to all Americans—including women, African-American, the Native Indians, and immigrants. This tradition of the latter has changed with President Trump whose White House is now dominated by wealthy white men—mostly from the Hamiltonian-centric Wall Street in New York. The president also promised to “take back the heart of our country” to Make America Great Again without the Jeffersonian-inklings of immigrants, women, and other ethnic and religious minorities.
Trump’s World of Chinese Hamiltonians
After Chairman Mao Zedong’s passing, President Deng Xiaoping invoked Hamiltonian-like policies to Beijing’s economic development and trade strategy, which led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to position itself as the second largest economic power after the United States. The question is: Will China ever follow the American experience of Hamiltonian means to Jeffersonian ends?
Since World War I, the United States has continued to emphasize the Jeffersonian worldview to “make world safe for democracy” even though China and America are interconnected by Hamiltonian commercial tissues. With the “China Dream,” President Xi Jinping’s Confucian and Communist approach to “Make China Great Again” through a corporate strategy of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) has continuously been updated while restricting Jeffersonian freedoms and other liberties of free expression and press in China.
As the Chairman of Everything, Xi stressed in October 2016 that the CPC’s unwavering leadership over SOEs is the key component of his “One Belt, One Road” plan combined with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund for Beijing’s grandiose global strategy. The Chinese SOEs are a strategic byproduct of Confucian culture for centralized governance and a necessity for the survival of the CPC. More recently, Chairman Xi has appointed former CEOs of SOEs as provincial leaders to strengthen his power structure among the former and new interlocutors of government and business.
Is Trump Following the “China Model”?
In America, under President Trump (and his son-in-law Kushner and daughter Ivanka) with his Hamiltonian cabinet of millionaires and billionaires to “Make America Great Again,” the White House has seemingly resorted to a Hamiltonian view of a manufacturing nation with a strong military while criticizing the Jeffersonian character of a robust and independent free press along with religious tolerance and the acceptance of immigrants. Observing the changing dynamics in the United States and elsewhere in the world, the question is: Will the United States follow the experience of centralized Confucian power—and by default the CPC and the China Model—to create a Hamiltonian world for Hamiltonians?
China as a thriving civilizational-state is certainly an artifact of evolution in history. The United States has always aspired to be an “Empire of Liberty” envisioned by Jefferson and other Founding Fathers. For the latter, the colossal Statue of Liberty in New York City is the sacred symbol that has long separated the United States from China and the rest of the world. It radiates “Liberty Enlightening the World” and inspires the peoples from every culture, religion, and nationality. In her poem, “The New Colossus,” the Jewish-American Emma Lazarus wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This is the very same Jeffersonian moral sentiment that harks back to the Pilgrims as a living testament to the pursuit of happiness beyond American shores.
The End Game: The Sons of Liberty Succeed
For human progress, the evolving of American republic equally needs its inherent Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian principles of America’s past from the colonists and the Pilgrims. With his “America First” policy, Trump has embarked on creating a Hamiltonian America without acknowledging the Jeffersonian pulse of the nation. In fact, the Jeffersonian majority is clearly reflected in Clinton’s victory of nearly three-million “Popular Votes” even though the Electoral College enshrined in the U.S. Constitution ushered Trump into the presidency.
By design, the American system created by the Founding Fathers works in chaos but with the harmonious energy of Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian elements that no other nation on earth can replace. Even while the Hamiltonian evangelical fervor appears to project the occasional political power, the inertia embedded in the Jeffersonian spirit of “deep state”—a decentralized army of patriotic public servants, diplomats, and mainstream media—keeps the nation on the move in unison despite the fact Trump could still put brakes on the speed of “the sons of liberty” movement by his Federal Budget cuts and re-allocation of government resources. These Jeffersonians are like a school of fish—without a leader—marching toward justice to realize America’s lasting destiny in an “Empire of Liberty” for all.
The ultimate question is: How long will the “Trumpire” of Hamiltonian America—with the president’s rhetoric and idiotic tweets—survive when the vitality of Jeffersonian DNA sustains the character of the “global nation” as the beacon for the world?