The Republicans are on a roll, or so the conventional wisdom goes. The American public, with the memory of a kicked dog, is ready to re-entrust power to the Party that Wrecked America. It certainly has the eye-candy for horny white male voters, such as the comely-but-stupid Christine O'Donnell and the leggy half-term Gov. Palin. It has billions of dollars thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling on corporate campaign spending (corporations are people, you see, except when they break the law). And it has issues: Gays and Muslims are taking over the country, along with Obama's "socialism" — such as the big giveaway to the for-profit health-care sector, the rescue of the casino on Wall Street and continued funding of the for-profit national security economy. Issues such as that the Constitution is sacrosanct, with its mandated theocracy, that evolution is a "theory" (like gravity) and should not be taught, that stem-cell research is, like all science, of the devil and we should just incinerate all those embryos, that tax cuts and no regulation will solve every ill, that brown people cutting your lawn are the biggest threat to American civilization.
America has become like Arizona: Ignorant, fearful, disconnected from and hostile to the commons, inordinately dependent on gub'ment dollars even as it rails against gub'ment. And, most of all, locked in a clueless feedback loop trying to avoid reality. But the real world moves on.
A new world order is crashing down on us whether we like it or not. And it's not the new world order of Glenn Beck's paranoia or George H.W. Bush's optimistic post-Cold War vision.
China has vaulted into being the world's second-largest economy, in no small part thanks to the American companies that have moved manufacturing there and, increasingly, research; offshored millions of jobs, and will do Beijing's bidding no matter the consequences at home. Say, 10 percent unemployment and declining living standards. As our largest creditor, China can keep Washington in a permanent bi-partisan kow-tow. Our stateless super-rich could give a damn as they pick the carcass of the American economy to squeeze the last productive industry and job.
China's state capitalism seems impressive: Spending $100 billion this year alone on high-speed rail, building entire cities and scores of new universities, bouncing out of the Great Recession with a growth rate of more than 9 percent and seeing the rise of powerful (state-owned) companies. While America exhausts itself with trillion-dollar wars paid for with borrowed money, China invests in infrastructure, lines up supplies of oil and other resources, and spends money making friends (and exploiting the workers) in Africa and Latin America. China explodes Jeanne Kirkpatrick's theory that capitalism must inevitably give way to democracy; the communists offer their people a chance to get rich if they will only stay out of politics and so far it's working. State capitalism, instead, offers the most powerful challenging idea that American free-market capitalism has ever confronted. It also challenges the American ordering of the globe post World War II. Dean Acheson was famously "present at the creation." We are present at the destruction.
Let's be honest. China is a destabilizing, protectionist power. It is using its near monopoly of rare-earth metals, essential for high-tech products and many weapons systems, as a cudgel to intimidate the world. We recently saw this when Japan was forced to back down over an incident involving a Chinese fishing boat captain who collided with a Japanese coast guard ship near disputed islands. Keeping its currency artificially low as a competitive advantage, it breaks the rules followed by major economic powers. Trying to corner sustainable energy and a host of other "strategic industries," China also breaks the rules. It wants to gain control of the food supply as well with a bid for Potash. A decade of membership in the World Trade Organization has helped China destroy dozens of American industries. Yet China shreds the WTO's rules. Another way of looking at it: The WTO belongs to China now.
It would be nice to accept the conventional wisdom that China and America need each other. But this would be to take yet another holiday from history. Nearly every move China makes is to become more independent from America and more powerful. Nor is it true that countries that trade with each other don't fight each other (see Europe 1914 and Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union before June 1941). And trade wars, something China has already started, can lead to war wars.
The Chinese military is increasingly hostile in its pronouncements toward the U.S. and increasingly ambitious in its capabilities. The People's Liberation Army is much more independent of civilian control than was ever the case with the Red Army. And it's also an economic power in its own right, controlling many state-owned companies. War between China and America is not inevitable. It is not unlikely, either, with the goal of kicking us out of the Pacific and keeping us as "consumer" serfs for Chinese products. Our wars have gotten us nothing but more enemies and bankruptcy, and given the Chinese a tutorial of how we fight. China's instabilities, too, whether its massive poor population or asset bubble, are both global dangers and could lead to military adventurism.
We have done ourselves no favors, in areas abundantly explored on this blog. Republicans dreams of "austerity" as is being done in the United Kingdom, without the defense cuts, of course. But northern Europe, like Asia, will decouple from this Anglo-Saxon fantasy, which of course is really about making the rich richer, keeping the hedge-fund boyz going and perpetuating corporate welfare. It already has enviable infrastructure — when we can't even build a rail tunnel from Manhattan to New Jersey, a state more densely populated than any nation in Europe. It cares about its people. It still has a commons. Northern Europe will go its own way. How long do you give NATO?
Most of all the new world order will revolve around peak oil and climate change. These are happening now, whether Americans want to believe in them or not (only one Republican congressional candidate believes in climate change). We're a nation of morons addicted to reality television and video games, "tattooed barbarians," as Jim Kunstler observes. When it all comes down, we'll need all the gay soldiers we can get. But our massive military and national security state, bigger than when we faced the Soviet Union, are not our strengths and will not save us from this hostile world amaking.
Abraham Lincoln's worst fear was that he would be the last president of the United States of America. I wonder if that specter stalks Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin?