Whether or not Putin played a significant hand in putting Trump in the White House in 2016, Russia's top strategic goal was achieved: a severely weakened and accelerated the social fragmenting of U.S. of A. And not just Russia's top strategic goal... but we'll get to the China aspect in a moment. Derek Thompson's Atlantic essay from Wednesday, We’re Never Going Back to the 1950s, looks at our country's social unraveling, civic fragmentation, declining social engagement and polarization, from marriage rates and lower church attendance to less trust in government and collapsing social trust among young adults. Trump didn't invent any of this; his 4 years-- particularly his predictable mishandling of the pandemic-- exacerbated it manyfold.
Thompson was writing primarily about the impact of the pandemic on mass media and entertainment, not about politics. I don't think he even mentioned Trump's name once. He noted that when he's asked if he's optimistic about 2021, "the answer is that, in a way, I’m ecstatically optimistic. The economy will reopen, and life will reopen. People will come out of their homes; they will send their kids to school; they will hug and kiss and live. But underneath the high tide of economic growth and social normalization, I think we’ll feel something else, an eerie undertow of isolation and anxiety. 'The definition of community is where you keep showing up,' said someone I met, whose name I’ve forgotten, back in the days when it was normal to meet new people whose names you could forget. I haven’t forgotten that line, though: Community is where you keep showing up. What a lovely idea. But where do people keep showing up, these days? Nowhere. Not the office, not the COVID-aerosolized bars and gyms. A lot of people have spent a year finding community via a glowing screen in a room they never leave. The empty bowling alleys and movie theaters; the infinity buffet of entertainment and partisan media; the dissolution of a shared American reality-- these are distinct yet connected phenomena. Digital technology has spawned a choose-your-own-adventure mediascape, which has flooded the electorate with alternate realities, at the same time that its community ties wither. America is coming apart, and these pieces will not be easily reassembled." And now...
Do you subscribe to Noahpinion? His China newsletter today, Invincible Empire? was especially chilling, particularly when he notes how China can be-- but, thanks entirely to Trump, hasn't been-- resisted: "The clearest way for a bunch of weaker countries to resist a single strong country is to get a gang together. This worked against Germany in World War 1. Economically, countries can band together in trade blocs that exclude China, in order to make themselves less reliant on the Chinese economy and Chinese supply chains. Militarily, they can form de facto alliances to prevent Chinese control of the seas. Diplomatically they can form unified blocs to push for things like Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO. China’s stumbles in its Belt and Road project have shown that it’s fairly ham-handed in dealing with other countries both near and far, so getting together a gang to balance the behemoth might be feasible... [I]t seems to me that an Asian China-balancing gang can only be big, wealthy, and military strong enough if it includes the United States. That’s a scary prospect, because the U.S. is going through a time of extreme political dysfunction, social turmoil, and institutional decline. It is far from the power it was in the 1990s. That means the U.S. might simply refuse to join a China-balancing gang, as when Trump pulled out of the TPP. It might reduce appetite for foreign entanglements, to say nothing of a war to defend Taiwan. Opposition to Chinese power could become-- indeed, is already becoming-- a football in the neverending culture wars. Thus, Asian countries are in a very tight spot. They’re facing a titanic behemoth of an empire that suddenly looks far less benign than it did a decade ago. And the only big country capable of helping them balance that empire is hobbled by its internal divisions. If the U.S. can’t straighten itself out soon, other Asian countries might find resistance to China just as futile as it was for Hong Kong."
Noah Smith wrote that at the height of the protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese takeover almost two million people turned out into the streets, out of a population of 7.5 million-- a quarter of the entire city. The movement lasted for years, and garnered massive attention from overseas. Of course, it just didn’t matter. There was nothing the rest of the world could do; Hong Kong legally belongs to China, and when the crackdown came in 2020, there was no superpower with the ability and inclination to do anything about it. The utmost efforts of those millions of people were like the buzzing of an insect to China, and the insect got backhanded... Can China’s neighbors actually resist its overweening power?" Or are they-- starting with Taiwan-- as doomed as Hong Kong?