Mocking the US election is a severe misjudgment

By Zhao Kejin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 4, 2016
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The U.S. presidential election has finally come to an end, with business tycoon Donald Trump elected as the 58th president. This has been a shock to many people in the U.S. as well as the rest of the world. Throughout the election cycle, there have been a number of people who keep making fun of the election, instead of doing serious research. They even argue that the American democracy is near collapse. Is it indeed so?

Research on American democracy is not necessarily a strong suit of Americans. One of the classic books on American democracy is "Democracy in America" by French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville. This book gained and has maintained popularity because it studied American politics, and argued that democracy is a way of life for Americans and that as long as Americans are there, this way of life will continue. Among the many monographs the Chinese have written on America, the most inspiring is is "America against America," which was written by Wang Huning, a political theorist-turned-official in China. In his book, Wang analyzes the internal conflicts within American society and politics. He wrote, "Wherever you find positive force, you can also find something negative."

We Chinese may be more interested in the drama that occurs on the political stage in the U.S., but we seldom care about the stage and the architecture behind it. But what really counts in American democracy is exactly the stage itself: No matter what drama is on, as long as the stage is there, it will not collapse.

"Reverse punishment"

Black swan events have happened from time to time in the history of American presidential election. Prominent figures may find themselves failing in the end, which is not unusual for American citizens. Why? Because they see American democracy as essentially something of "reverse punishment." In the eyes of Americans, veteran politicians are most of the time not virtuous and are something like a "necessary evil." Thus they try to prevent a worse candidate from being elected, and they are confident that even if a bad president gets elected, there are ways to put constraints on him or her.

Thus Trump's win is not necessarily due to the fact that he won the hearts of many Americans, but because many people do not want Hilary Clinton to be president. They thought that if Clinton made it to the White House, America would repeat itself. Trump, on the other hand, will inject tremendous uncertainties going forward. Americans believe that as intemperate as Trump is, he will be constrained by the American system and may bring unexpected, great changes to the country.

Proper way to study America

Winston Churchill famously said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." He basically means that despite the negative sides of democracy, it is still the best political system in the world. In the case of the United States, Americans reformed representative democracy, which propped up the country to be a super power.

Of course, there are flaws in American democracy, such as money in politics and democratic deficits. Criticisms abound in this regard, and can be found both inside and outside America. When Chinese try to study and critique it, we need to be aware of the trajectory of social systems and bear in mind the mainstay of Chinese systems.

We need to avoid groundless accusations and sentiment-based ridicule, because contempt for a powerful rival will backfire. America practices democracy in domestic politics and hegemony in foreign countries, and this duality may confuse us when studying the country. For us, it is one thing to resent its hegemony and another thing to critique its democracy: We can be emotive on the former, but we need to stick to rational academic critique when it comes to the latter. In other words, the study of America is not about researching American foreign policy or China-U.S. ties, much less the strange words of its political figure. We need to study from the perspective of American political ecosystem and learn about the logic and developmental trends of American politics.

The author is the deputy director of the Institute of International Studies of Tsinghua University. He is also a senior researcher with Charhar Institute.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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