After US President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, some Chinese netizens have joked about the US ongoing partisan struggle: Why can't the US have two presidents? Others said there can be two United States: USA and USB, just like South Korea and North Korea.
After all, those are netizens' remarks. More than 20 years ago when the "China collapse" theory prevailed in the US, it was a "well-founded" argument by professional scholars, while the "US collapse" theory in China now is not yet supported by systematic research.
Swiss sociologist Andreas Wimmer said in his book Nation Building: Why Some Countries Come Together While Others Fall Apart that political integration and national identification are two sides to the coin of nation building.
There are at least two little-known arguments.
In 1856, US Representative Preston Brooks from South Carolina used a walking cane to attack Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts over the issue of slavery. In 1915, Eric Muenter, a Harvard professor, blew up the reception room of the US Senate chamber in the Capitol building under the name of "a call for peace." No one was injured. In 1932, some 25,000 World War I veterans besieged the Capitol for weeks, many of them died. On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican separatists broke into the House of Representatives and wounded five members of Congress. In 1983, the north wing of the Capitol building was blown up. In 1998, a gunman entered the Capitol, killing two police officers.
It is clear that the Capitol chaos of January 6 was more extreme and devastating with larger scale than any one in history, and it was tied to the incitement of a sitting president.
According to a survey of the Pew Research Center, 94 percent of Democratic and 92 percent of Republican lawmakers became more ideologically consistent in 2014, and, as a result, further from one another. By contrast, in 1994, the two parties could come to better agreements on matters and had overlapping ideas.
What one party agrees with is usually what the other party is against. The two parties have slipped from the politics of consensus to the politics of confrontation. There is already speculation that the confrontation could degenerate into a new civil war.
Yascha Mounk, a Harvard lecturer, and Roberto Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, jointly published a study on attitudes toward democracy in 2016.
It shows that nearly 75 percent of those born in the 1930s in the US think democracy is essential, while only around 30 percent for those born in the 1980s.
Another survey was more interesting. When asked whether "having a democratic political system" is a "bad" or "very bad" way to "run this country" in 1995 and 2011 respectively, the percentage of Americans believing this idea rose in every age group.
Nonetheless, Chinese people have a long and romantic vision of the US. They tend to attribute many positive sides of this country, such as the public's kindness, social order, economic growth, racial harmony and the rise of the country, to democracy.
The majority of Chinese people now have comprehensive knowledge of the US. They believe this country will continue to be the most powerful country in the long term. Meanwhile, they think the US will no longer deserve much respect as it once enjoyed.
The way in which President Donald Trump messed up the US during his four-year presidency has clearly shocked the entire world. If we take a closer look at the current qualitative changes that the US is going through, we might find that there are deeper reasons why the country's social, economic and political systems have become dysfunctional, and why nothing can be done now to repair Trump's crazy acts.
The US today is not the same America as it was in 1789 when George Washington was elected the first president. Nor is the same as it was in 1979 when China and the US established diplomatic relations. It is even far from the US of 2008 when Joe Biden was elected vice president.
Why? The percentage of white people in the entire US population has fallen from 87.5 percent in 1950 to 56 percent in 2019. By 2050, it will be 49 percent, and the white people will be "the majority-minority." Qualitative changes in the social structure are impacting American values as a whole. The self-styled ethnic "melting pot" system is no longer effective in the US as there are different or even conflicting understandings of those seemingly lofty values, such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law, among different groups of people.
The country's GDP grew by 47 percent between 1998 and 2008, but only 5 percent in the manufacturing sector. This is a far cry from half a century ago when manufacturing supported one-third of the US labor market. The US is becoming a country increasingly supported by the financial "rentier" and "litigious" class. The qualitative changes in industry and income structures have led to rising inequality in the US. Amid the epidemic, 81 percent of US homes were under pressure to repay mortgages and rents. A delinquency rate of 11 percent even surpassed the financial crisis figures in 2008. Roughly 40 percent of African-American and 30 percent of Latino students had no access to online instruction during school closures, compared with 10 percent of white students. Such changes to the economic structure are leading to a divergence of collective demands in the US, ranging from social security to taxes, healthcare and immigration.
Economic policies have become short-sighted and hard to implement. Even worse, these policies have created a "pendulum" effect that is hard to sustain.
The country has become an "internal consumption machine," as its current political "polarization" is getting more and more serious. The proportion of Democrats and Republicans who dislike each other "extremely" has risen from 16.5 percent a quarter of a century ago to more than 80 percent today. We can also say there is a "cold civil war" going on among the American people. In a Gallup poll in June, American people's confidence had sharply dropped as only 63 percent of the Americans felt proud of being Americans, compared to more than 90 percent in the 1990s.Changes in the political structure have caused problems to daily operations of the US government - endless arguments, criticism, finger pointing and prevarication have taken dominance over seeking a common goal with the same standards.
Meanwhile, China is also changing. It overtook the US in terms of manufacturing in 2011, in total trade in goods in 2013, and in the number of patents in 2019. If everything goes well, China is expected to surpass the US as the world's largest consumer market by the end of 2020. Around 2030, China will become the world's largest economy.
In the next five to 10 years, China and the US will need to have a renewed understanding of each other again.
China and the US need to re-understand each other on a long-term basis. The US' understanding of China is still based on the book The United States and China, written by American sinologist and Harvard history professor John King Fairbank in the mid 20th century. And China's understanding of the US is still limited to the basic framework of imperial hegemony.
About two centuries ago, to understand the newly established US, French sociologist and political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to various states in the US and wrote his four-volume Democracy in America. About half a century ago, to understand Japan after WWII, American anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote her famous study of Japan The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.
Today, we need some Chinese intellectuals to dig into American society and achieve a similar monumental work on the US in the new era. This is something worth looking forward to.