Sunday, May 31, 2020

"We Are Better Than This"

Remember the old proverb: Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. Most people seem to believe that it comes from China, but that seems subject to some dispute.

Wherever it comes from, we are living it today.

For the past three years the nation has been awash in seditious rhetoric. The American left, having run one of the worst candidates in American political history, lost the presidency to-- get this-- Donald Trump. Leftists far and wide proceeded to throw a monumental tantrum. In the name of their sacrosanct democracy they refused to accept the results of a fair election.

They called for the White House to be burned down, for Trump to be murdered and decapitated, for radical rioters to take over American cities. They lied and cheated to set up a phony impeachment process, one that ultimately failed. Now they are flocking to the so-called leadership of a man who is suffering from senile dementia, who barely knows what day it is, who assaults women by sniffing their hair in public. They do so because nothing could possibly be worse than Donald Trump. Where are their values? Out to lunch, I would say.

We had the pandemic, so the left decided that it could be a useful cudgel to beat on Donald Trump. Now, after a Minneapolis policeman obviously murdered a man named George Floyd, the nation has erupted in violence. It looks less like a protest and more like an armed insurrection. When you traffic in the rhetoric of mindless destruction, you might not like it when you get your wish.

Now, the American left is now getting its wish. The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, a man who allowed Antifa fascists to take over sections of his city, suddenly finds the prospect of insurrection intolerable.Those who drooled over the greatness of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s black liberation theology or who happily embraced Rev. Louis Farrakhan are getting their wish.

Naturally, Democratic political operatives, even including former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich are spinning as fast as they can. They do not want to blame the rioters; they do not want to blame those who are fomenting chaos. They want to politicize the rioting by blaming it on Trump. And yet, how many of the rioters do you believe were Trump voters. This is not the Tea Party, bunky.

Reich wrote in The Guardian:

How has Trump responded to the widespread unrest following the murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for minutes as he was handcuffed on the ground?

Trump called the protesters “thugs” and threatened to have them shot. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted, parroting a former Miami police chief whose words spurred race riots in the late 1960s.

On Saturday, he gloated about “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons” awaiting protesters outside the White House, should they ever break through Secret Service lines.

Were you to ask what’s wrong with this picture, which more closely resembles propaganda than reasoned analysis, the answer pops immediately to mind. Reich has nary a word of condemnation for the rioters who were trying to invade the White House grounds. He has not a work of criticism for the mobs who are burning down cities across the nation. For him, its all about Trump. Trump is the great devil, the root of all evil. Whatever goes wrong is Trump’s fault. Whatever goes right is to the credit of those who have been showering the nation with hatred for these past three years.

As it happens, the cities that are burning are governed by Democrats. They are all sanctuary cities. Most of their mayors are inept and incompetent. When their citizens rise up in anger, the mayors declare that it not the fault of the rioters. They are not to be held accountable. They are to be forgiven, because the real problem is Trump. And the real problem is racism. Among those trafficking in this nonsense is the mayor of Minneapolis, the epicenter of the rebellion. One needs to say it but Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey comes out of this looking like a complete pussy.

Of course, saying that the problem is white racism makes black people appear to be powerless to do anything to help themselves. Harping on racism is a counsel of despair. It demoralizes. It makes black people dependent on others. If the only thing you can do is burn your neighborhood down, then why bother to work for a living, to do schoolwork, to try to get ahead in the world. And why, after all, love the country.

And yet, the message that has nearly gotten lost is this: if any community rises up as a vanguard of a revolution, it is going to suffer reputational damage. The New York Times contrasted the actions of the rioters with the sober and sensible words of the mayor of Atlanta:

Not far from the park, the city’s iconic tourist destination, some people climbed atop a large red CNN sign outside the media company’s headquarters and spray-painted messages on it. Some people jumped on police cars. Others threw rocks at the glass doors of the Omni Hotel, eventually breaking the glass, and shattered windows at the College Football Hall of Fame, where people rushed in and emerged with branded fan gear.

“It’s enough,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an evening news conference. “We are all angry. This hurts. This hurts everybody in this room. But what are you changing by tearing up a city? You’ve lost all credibility now. This is not how we change America. This is not how we change the world.”

The mayor’s words should stand out as the commentary on these riots, just as Rodney King’s statement-- Can we all get along?-- has come to represent the wisdom that came out of the Los Angeles riots.

The mayor continued:

Ms. Bottoms, the mayor, invoked her own experience as the black mother of four black children, one of whom is 18. She said when she saw Mr. Floyd die, “I hurt like a mother would hurt.”

But she said the demonstrations she saw in Atlanta were not a protest and not in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but “chaos.”

“You are disgracing our city, you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country,” Ms. Bottoms said. “We are better than this. We are better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home. Go home.”

She understood, as few seem to have, that once you burn down your neighborhood or someone else’s neighborhood, it cannot just be rebuilt overnight. Stock markets might recover in a short period of time. Neighborhoods take much longer. The race riots of the 1960s should have taught us as much.

Worse yet, reputations often do not recover at all. The people who are out rioting, who are out conducting an insurrection against America, are going to damage the reputations of everyone who seems to belong to the same group. Mayor Bottoms understood this. She was horrified by it. She was right. You wonder how many politicians will have the same courage to stand up against the rioters and speak reason to their will to violence.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

China and the Trolley Problem

Apparently, thought experiments are commonly used by philosophers to teach ethical principles. James Wilson outlines the issues in an article on Aeon. I will however take issue with the basic premise, namely that we use these experiments to discover higher ethical principles. I will argue that these experiments are more about executive decision making, especially those situations where an executive is facing two options, neither of which is good. That is, when he needs to choose between bad and worse. Any idiot can choose between good and bad. It takes true leadership to choose between bad and worse.

In the executive situation, there is no time to decide on some overriding general principle. One needs to decide and one is damned either way.

Wilson offers the most famous thought experiment, the trolley problem:

Most famous (or infamous) among these are ‘trolley problems’ – thought experiments about the permissibility of causing the death of a smaller number of people to save a larger number from a runaway trolley (or train). 

The situation is thus: a runaway trolley is rambling down the track. There is no conductor and no way to stop it before it plows into five men working on the track, killing them all. The only option is to switch the trolley to another track. And yet, one man is working on the other track and if the trolley switches tracks, that man will surely die. So, the issue is, saving five people at the cost of murdering one. Doing nothing is not an option, since that will consign the five workers to doom. And, the problem grants equal value to the six human subjects. If, for example, the one person on the alternate track is the leader of your war effort or if he is about to discover a cure for coronavirus, would that change the way you decide? Or better, if the one person were your father or your son, how would that change your decision making.

To be clear, in distinction to the thought experiment, it is rarely the case that we know to a certitude what will happen if we do nothing.

In any event, that is the trolley problem. It is not quite as bizarre or as uncommon as it appears. Let’s say that a law firm is having trouble staying solvent. Should it fire a few lawyers in order to save the jobs of everyone else. One might say that someone is going to get hurt. Should it be five first year associates or one partner? If it's a choice between one associate and one partner, the solution becomes trivial. As it happens today, many companies are facing just such decisions. Many New York law firms have cancelled contracts with summer associates and even with entering associates.

Or else, take another situation, one that involves political leadership. Let’s imagine that a group of protesters have gathered in the central square of Beijing. The year is 1989. They are demanding democratic elections and liberal political reforms. They camp out in the central square for weeks, refusing to budge on their demands. Now, we, with our superior Western wisdom sympathize with their cause. We see Woodstock. And we see liberal democracy coming to China.

As it happens, the leaders of the Middle Kingdom do not see what we see. They see a situation that they saw a quarter century before, when bands of student radicals amassed in Tienanmen Square to inaugurate the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Given that China’s leaders in 1989 were mostly victims of the Cultural Revolution, one might attribute a certain degree of sensitivity to them. Perhaps even over-sensitivity.

Did they have any reason to think as they thought? Well, first, a teenaged student named Wuer Kaixi went on national television in his pajamas and berated the Premier of China, one Li Peng to his face. To humiliate a political leader publicly must have reminded some of members of the Politburo of what had happened during the Mao years. Second, the student demonstrators had provoked some considerable support around the nation. Strikes were breaking out. The economy was grinding to a halt. (Note the difference between that time and this year’s Hong Kong protests, which have elicited no public support on the mainland). Third, the army was in mutiny. A simple detail, often lost in the hubbub, but the People’s Liberation Army forces stationed around Beijing had announced that they would not obey orders to crack down on the demonstrators. One suspects that the police did not have the power to intervene-- situation that we are seeing play out on America’s streets today.

Now, we all agree that the best approach would have been to allow the protest movement to peter out on its own. And yet, if the movement was causing major disruptions across the nation, that may have seemed too dangerous a risk.

And besides, as Henry Kissinger pointed out at the time, China’s leaders were losing some serious face at the time. We think that losing face is all about keeping up appearances. Since I wrote a book in which I tried to dispel this misapprehension, I will point out that Kissinger was suggesting that if you cannot control the central square of your capital city, you look like you are not in charge. If China’s leaders were not in control, then the risk was that student radicals would seize control and announce another Cultural Revolution. And that that would lead to civil war.

So, China’s leaders did not merely want the protests to end. They were afraid that if they did not show themselves to be in charge, China would fall into anarchy. And they knew from the country’s history that internecine warfare would cause millions of deaths. As it happened the Cultural Revolution caused over a million deaths and destroyed countless more lives. It broke what remained of the Chinese economy and produced an extreme poverty rate that was well over 80%. 

And let us also understand that the Politburo debated the question for weeks. The students had the support of the Communist Party General Secretary and former premier, Zhao Ziyang. As it happened, Zhao himself walked into Tiananmen Square at a dramatic moment and announced to the student demonstrators that they had lost the argument.

Of course, the man who was called the Supreme Leader of China at the time, one Deng Xiaoping, only had one official title-- Chairman of the Military Commission. Deng’s opinion prevailed because he was respected, not because he possessed the authority of Mao Zedong. As you know, Deng abhorred the idolatry that surrounded Mao. He himself was targeted by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. He was named the No. 2 capitalist roader for his efforts to replace Mao’s communism with a free enterprise system. The No. 1 capitalist roader, Liu Shaoqi was murdered by the Red Guards in 1969. Deng survived it because he was a favorite of the People’s Liberation Army. For the record, his son was tortured by the Red Guards and tossed out of a third story window. The young man ended up a parapligic. 

So, we can see that the leadership of China was faced with a trolley problem in 1989. It believed that it could either exert its authority violently by murdering a certain number of student demonstrators or could watch the country disintegrate. In the latter case, the case where it did nothing, a new civil war might well erupt and millions might die.

In any event, we know what happened. We know that the George H. W. Bush administration dealt with the fallout diplomatically. We also know that a young New York Times reporter, by name of Nicholas Kristof confidently predicted that the Chinese regime would soon collapse. By his jejune reasoning, oppression always provoked a counterreaction, an act of rebellion that would overthrow the powers that be. And we also know that one Gordon Chang wrote a book ten years after Tiananmen where he predicted the imminent collapse of the Chinese regime. 

Kristof works for the New York Times so no one expects him to be right. As for Chang, the reward for being wrong for two decades is to attain the status of expert and to appear on major television talk shows. Don't say Americans are not charitable. And don't say that they have any intellectual standards.

So, as I said, the trolley problem is more practical than theoretical. It refers to situations where an executive needs to choose between bad and worse, and especially at a time where, in distinction to the trolley problem, the outcome of inaction is in doubt. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Should Israel Annex West Bank Settlements?

By any objective measure things are looking good for Israel. Thanks to the Trump administration, which has undone many of the anti-Israeli policies put in place by the Obama administration, Israel’s strategic position in the region has improved significantly.

Now, the issue on the table is the Israeli and American effort to annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank. As might be expected, the Palestinian terrorists oppose this action. So does presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Biden.

In order to lure Jewish voters into voting against their interests, Biden continues to float the phony prospect of a peace plan. As it happens, there are no peace negotiations. The Palestinian terrorists do not want peace. Talking about peace is merely a lure to dupe the gullible.

As noted, the important point involves Israel’s strategic position in the region. The second important point is Israeli alliances with Arab states. The third important point is to the need to destroy the Iranian regime. On these scores the Trump administration has done excellent work.

When Biden talks about undercutting the prospects for peace he really means that he wants to undercut Israel’s position in the region. And he refuses to accept the simple fact that Israel succeeded in a place where the Palestinians failed. And that Palestinians have nothing left to do but to negotiate terms of surrender.

Here is the Biden policy:

Joe Biden said that as president he would reverse Trump administration policies that have led to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“I do not support annexation,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told Jewish donors on Tuesday during a fundraising webinar. “I’m going to reverse Trump administration steps which I think significantly undercut the prospects of peace.”

Biden, the former vice president, was referring to the Trump administration’s vision for peace released earlier this year that would allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. 

Of course, the Trump peace plan was greeted favorably by Gulf Arab states. One should not overlook this fact.

David Hornik reports on the current game of diplomatic chess:

Will Israel start “annexing”—the more accurate but cumbersome term is “applying Israeli law and/or sovereignty to”—the Jordan Valley and the Israeli West Bank communities in July?

A report by reporter-analyst Daniel Siryoti in the Israel Hayom daily strengthens the likelihood that… the Israeli move is on track for July.

As you know the Palestinian Authority has thrown a tantrum. And Turkey's president Erdogan has said that he will not let it happen. King Abdullah of Jordan has protested vehemently, but his protests seem to have been more theatrical than real. Other nations have sent a different message. 

Opponents of applying sovereignty say it will needlessly rile or even endanger Israel’s improved—though still mostly under-the-table—relations with Arab states, and will also spark a surge of Palestinian violence. But Siryoti’s report puts at least the former assumption in doubt.

“Behind the scenes,” he says, “moderate Arab leaders are in no rush to prevent Israel from pursuing the territorial bid.”

That would be in contrast to their public statements—especially in the case of Jordan’s King Abdullah, who warned of “massive conflict” with Israel and suspension of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty if Israel applies sovereignty to the lands.

Yet, says Siryoti, “over the past few months several Arab leaders have met with senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and US Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz [and] in essence, given the go-ahead” for the Israeli move.

Why would Arab leaders be giving the go-ahead for Israel to finalize its control of territories it conquered in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war?

Apparently, Jared Kushner has been doing a good job here. You will never read it in the media, perhaps because of his religious persuasion. 

A “senior Jordanian official,” Siryoti writes, told him that if Jordan suspends or cancels the peace agreement [with Israel], it will undermine its position [as custodian of] the holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem.

The king also prefers to see Israeli troops near Jordan’s western border [the Jordan Valley] over Palestinian forces or a multinational peacekeeping mission. Jordan’s security forces have close ties with their Israeli counterparts and with all due respect to Palestinian interests—the king cares more about Jordanian interests. He wants to maintain the kingdom’s status in Jerusalem and his good relations with President Trump.

Perhaps more importantly, Saudi Arabia has been telling the Palestinians to cut it out. We have reported extensively on signs of a Saudi shift, and we will point out that when a country like Jordan needs financial assistance, it calls Riyadh.

The following information strikes me as significant, especially since it sustains a point I have been making for a few years now. I underscore that the Saudis respect the Trump administration, fact that you will never read in the American media:

As for Saudi Arabia, whose tacit ties with Israel have been growing, Siryoti quotes a “senior diplomat considered a confidant of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman” who told him:

…the Palestinians need to understand that the entire world, especially the Arab states, has undergone great changes…. With all due respect to the tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Jordan will not jeopardize their relationship with the Trump administration for them.

…It is time for [Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas] and his advisers to wake up and realize that global and regional interests have changed. If they again miss an opportunity to establish an independent and sovereign state alongside Israel because of the annexation of the [Jordan] Valley and some of the settlements, they will be left with nothing.

The same message is coming from Egypt.

And as for Egypt, a “senior Egyptian security official” said that moderate Arab rulers “see preventing Iran from achieving Shiite hegemony in the Middle East as more important than the Palestinian issue.” The official added, “The United States and Israel are very important [players] in the fight against Iran. No Arab leader will jeopardize his country’s own interest in curbing Iranian expansion for the Palestinians.”

So, the Palestinians have lost. They will probably be the last to know. Their only hope now is a Biden administration willing to prop up the mullahs in Tehran and to undermine Israel’s strategic interests. 

The Perfect Time for a Face Lift, or a Bit of Botox

Today’s Bible reading comes from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

The text pops into mind when we read of the experience of famed New York plastic surgeon, Dr. Steven Levine. He provides an answer to what New York’s rich and famous are doing during the pandemic shutdown.

One understands that he is talking about the few wealthy New Yorkers who are staying home. That is, the happy few who have not decamped to the Hamptons or South Florida.

One suspects, though it is never quite made explicit, that it’s all coming from women. After they see dead-faced Botoxed Michigan governor Gretchen Whitner, they naturally want to go out and look as bad as she does. Figure that one out.

In the past, lines on one's face designated character. Now, we certainly cannot have any of that.

Besides, the lines on your face subtly express emotion. And they allow you to read the emotions of your interlocutors-- that is, when we speak to someone face-to-face we mimic their facial expressions, thereby understanding what they are trying to express. Now, today’s sophisticated New York women aspire to a condition whereby they have no facial expressions, and thus can sit around complaining about people who do not express their feelings. 

So, the world is collapsing around them. And New York’s grande dames are desperate to have some work done on their faces.

Dr. Levine, who does faces (and a few other body parts) for a living, is shocked by the intensity of the reaction:

Though I’m isolated with my wife and kids outside of the city, I’m shockingly busy. I’m only doing virtual consults all day. The demand from wealthy and celebrity clients to get work done — face-lifts, tummy tuck, breast augmentation — while no one is looking, while they have nowhere to be, is extremely high. Sadly, my answer is either no or not just yet.

They are desperate, though probably not for the reason they think they are desperate. Whatever the cause these women are so desperate that they are happy to throw gobs of money, even cash money, at the problem-- the better to entice Dr. Levine out of his social distancing:

Almost every virtual consult ends with “How quickly can you do this?” They want to take advantage of this perceived downtime. It seems like the perfect time to recover from a procedure like a face-lift, where you need at least two weeks to lay low (whereas for breast augmentation, you only need a few days to rest at home).

I think the requests for face, neck, eyes, and nose are constant at the moment because people are looking at themselves on Zoom all day, analyzing their angles. We all have bad angles. We will all take bad photos. They don’t want to hear that. I don’t judge any of them. When you look good, you feel good.

Is the increased demand coming from Zoom meetings? Perhaps. It might also be coming from boredom and detachment, from the absence of social connections. They are trying to make the best out of a bad situation, but, effectively, cosmetic facial enhancements make things worse.

How desperate are they?

One very well-known entrepreneur wanted to come to my office on the Upper East Side and get her face done, like, yesterday. She offered me more than four times my usual fee, all cash, and told me she’d have her lawyer draft a nondisclosure that she wouldn’t tell anyone we did it. I told her, “I love you to death, but no.”

Dr. Levine concludes:

The pent up demand for plastic surgery is off-the-charts crazy-high right now, and everyone wants to be first in line when I do open. 

I note this just in case you think that you have it bad.

Thursday, May 28, 2020


Since the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, that would be the mainstream media, is all-in for Joe Biden, they will never report a story that makes Biden look bad. If you thought that the Chinese Communist Party purveys propaganda, now you know that it is not alone.

So, a man who is suffering from senile dementia, and who never gets facts right, is being defended by a media that denounces President Trump as a liar, every hour on the hour. For our purposes we will call Biden errors Bidenism. They are blatantly untrue, but people do not think he lies. The reason: they do not think that he knows the difference. As I said, dementia.

You don’t have to be a cynic to follow.

The Daily Caller reports this exchange between Biden and Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Wolf opened.

“I want to remind you that Delaware used to be part of Pennsylvania,” Wolf laughed.

Biden responded, the better to show off his ignorance of history and his inability to get the dates right:

“That’s right, but we declared our independence on December the 7th, by the way,” Biden replied.

The Daily Caller corrects him:

Delaware actually declared independence — both from Pennsylvania and British colonial rule — on June 15, 1776.

Referring to December 7, Biden added:

“That’s not just D-Day,Biden continued, still laughing.

The Daily Caller corrects:

The Allied invasion of Normandy, recognized as D-Day, actually took place on June 6, 1944. It was the Japanese airstrike on Pearl Harbor that took place on December 7, 1941.

The real date that the former vice president was likely trying to reference was the day that Delaware ratified the U.S. Constitution: December 7, 1787. It was on that date that Delaware became the first state in the newly-formed union.

If you would like to add some fun to your day, consider these Bidenisms, offered by Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

This is Biden speaking:

“What would I say? Remember when I said Biden can’t win? The primaries? I kicked everybody’s ass. Excuse me. I won overwhelming. I told you when I got to South Carolina, I won every single county. I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody has, including Barack. I increased the vote in Virginia overwhelmingly by 70%. Look, what people don’t know about me is I come from a state has the eighth-largest black population in America—the eighth-largest. I get 96% of that vote for the last 40 years. They’re the folks, as they say out my way, brung me to the dance. That’s how I got elected every single time and everybody’s shocked. I get overwhelming support from the black leadership, young and old. Every poll shows me way ahead and it’s not just—I hear this, ‘Oh yeah, old blacks are with Biden, but young aren’t.’ Look at the polling data. Polling data, let’s say it’s off by half. Come on, man. Give me a little break here,” and so on.

It is true that polling data seems today to be putting Biden in the lead. But, Rove corrects some of the other assertions:

Mr. Biden didn’t even attempt to describe the agenda he’d offer black voters. And he didn’t win a bigger share of black South Carolina Democrats than Barack Obama did; exit polls say that then-Sen. Obama took 78% of South Carolina’s black voters in the 2008 primary, compared with Mr. Biden’s 61% a dozen years later. Plus, Delaware doesn’t have “the eighth-largest black population in America.” It has the 33rd-largest.

Have a nice day!

At War with China

Like it or not, the game is on. Well, not exactly the game, but Cold War II seems to be off and running. This despite the fact that your humble blogger has joined the ranks of those warning against.

As American politicians, especially those who lean toward the right, are inveighing about the evils of Chinese Communism, China is making moves on the global chessboard. Yesterday, the ongoing crackdown on Hong Kong advanced with a new resolution passed by the party congress. The resolution removed one of the last vestiges of Hong Kong's autonomy with new security laws.

And, by the way, China’s puppet state, North Korea is going back into the nuclear arms development business. So, one of the casualties of the anti-China rhetoric is the end of negotiations with North Korea.

Hopefully, our great thinkers who have been engaging in rhetorical warfare against China knew that this was going to happen. Hopefully, they have prepared a countermove. Good chess players always think several moves ahead.

I suspect that it’s really all about politics, about managing the political fallout of the coronavirus epidemic. I will dispense with my thoughts about the politics of it all and pass the baton to Harvard professor James Hankins, who lays out some salient points in Quillette.

Hankins begins by saying that many of our current policy decisions, from the Cuomo management of New York coronavirus cases to the disincentives to work lying in the CARES act, were based on fear. The same emotion, in his view, has caused the latest round of China-bashing:

Politicians and commentators left and right have been competing to march us into a new Cold War. Hold the Chinese responsible! Sue them! Impound their US bank accounts! Uproot all our supply chains that pass through China! Show China who is boss in the South China Sea! Send Chinese students back to China before they can steal all our technology and spread their diseases! The Chinese have deliberately infected the world, and they must be punished!

As for the notion that China deliberately unleashed the coronavirus, Hankins offers this counterargument:

The Chinese government certainly made some terrible mistakes. But our new Cold Warriors fail to apply Hanlon’s razor, “never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.” Or in this case, what can be explained by the reluctance of bureaucrats everywhere to incur responsibility and their eagerness to conceal mistakes.

At the least, this provides an alternative way to interpret what happened.

And he summarizes some of China’s countermoves on the global chessboard:

Stung by criticism from around the world, China has gone from carefully calibrated microaggressions in the South China Sea to crude threats of economic reprisals against nations like Australia that are calling for independent investigations of the Wuhan virus. It has gone from crisis management in Hong Kong to open violations of its guarantees of “one country, two systems.” 

As I have noted on this blog, the Chinese Communist Party counterpunches. Our Republican solons ought to have grasped what that means by watching President Trump engage in it for over three years now.

And he also notes a point that I and others have also made. Today’s Communist Party is not Mao’s Communist. China is not driven by ideology. Hankins remarks:

We are not ideological rivals the way America and the Soviet Union were before 1991. The Chinese system, despite the label on the package, is not communist. China, like the US, has a mixed economy, heavily regulated by the state, with a partially free market. Like us, they allow an enormous amount of wealth to be held in private hands. The Chinese government is not trying to export communist ideology the way the Soviets did; it is more interested in exporting semiconductors. Professions of belief in Marxist ideals coming from Chinese leaders are no more sincere than the respect paid to the ideals of the American Founding by members of the regressive Left on US campuses. No Chinese version of Nikita Krushchev is rattling nukes at us and shouting “We will bury you!” The voices in contemporary America urging the people to revolt against their capitalist oppressors are not being funded secretly by China. The greatest threats to American freedoms and American prosperity are coming from both parties in Congress, not from the CCP.

And, let’s not forget the social media giants like Twitter who have taken it upon themselves to censor conservative voices.

And, while Hankins proposes that we maintain cultural ties with China, he also adds that we should maintain trading ties with China. We can and should renegotiate them, as the Trump administration has been doing, but declaring war on China is not going to produce fairer trading relationships:

We need to maintain economic ties as well. The law of comparative advantage remains no less true now than it was in the pre-COVID era. That does not mean we can abandon practical judgement in the application of that law. An economic law is not a moral principle. But it is rational to have a preference for free trade so long as our trade partners do not take advantage of us, and so long as free trade does not increase risks to our citizens of low wages or high unemployment. Free trade should also not be allowed to endanger national security, including health security. Free trade under the right conditions, however, makes all participants better off and also gives them common interests, making them more reluctant to use violence against each other.

So, Hankins proposes a rational approach:

Let’s be rational on China. We don’t have to like the current Chinese political system or the CCP. Like most Americans, I strongly prefer the ordered liberty of our democracy, whatever its current discontents. But we don’t need to have another Cold War. It hardens our hearts and wastes our resources. Let’s stop the war while we still can.

I do not believe, in a political season, with the rhetoric being driven to extremes, that this is entirely realistic. But, having perspective is not a bad thing, even as the world economy is being further damaged by Cold War II.