At the last Republican debate Donald Trump established his authoritarian credentials beyond any doubt when he affirmed his earlier praise of the Chinese government’s brutal crushing of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, a crackdown that killed thousands of peaceful protesters. Praising the Chinese Communist Party seems an odd move for Trump, who, despite apparently wishing he could treat his own protesters similarly, generally appeals to a base demographic for whom “communism” and “evil” are synonymous.
Unlike Trump’s other favorite despot, however, China’s rulers are not reciprocating the love. In fact, Trump’s brand of demagogic bigotry has so tarnished the brand of American democracy that the government is using his campaign as proof that democracy doesn’t work. In an editorial in the state-owned Global Times today, Trump was described as a “rich,” “big-mouthed narcissist” whose remarks are abusively racist and extremist,” the implication being that any system in which such a man could thrive must be inherently flawed.
The editorial was penned in response to the violence at Trump’s Chicago rally on Friday, and used the epidemic of often racist attacks at Trump rallies as evidence that democracy only leads to chaos and anarchy: “Fist fights among voters who have different political orientations is quite common in developing countries during election seasons. Now, a similar show is shockingly staged in the US, which boasts one of the most developed and mature democratic election systems.”
The article goes on to paint a stingingly accurate picture of the economic and political conditions that led to Trump’s rise, noting that The Donald emerged as “a perfect populist who could easily provoke the public” after the devastation of the Great Recession. Noting that Trump’s supporters are “mostly lower-class whites” who “lost a lot” during the recession, the article makes an implicit critique of the free market, the volatile fluctuations of which clearly, in the Chinese editors’ minds, give rise to hatred and anger that can be exploited by a democratic demagogue.
Indeed the threat from democratic fascists like Trump is grave, no matter how mundane they may initially seem. As the editorial noted, “Trump’s ascent indicates all possibility and unpredictability.” The fact that Hitler and Mussolini, who fed off of a similar mixture of economic malaise, xenophobia, and chauvinism, came to power through peaceful elections is described as “a heavy lesson for Western democracy.” The implicit argument here is of course that democracy is nothing but a stepping stone to fascism and dictatorship, and Trump is providing them with just the evidence they need to prove their propaganda.
While the editorial is certainly tinged with propaganda, it’s critique of American democracy is revealing nonetheless. Moreover, the very fact that the brutal Chinese Communist Party is using Trump to argue against democracy – and not entirely unconvincingly – is a scathing indictment of his fascistic tendencies. Trump has reduced American democracy to such a vicious, bigoted self-parody that he is a walking argument against democracy, of whom the totalitarian rulers in Beijing are all too happy to make use. Their argument is essentially that “the people” are too stupid and bigoted to be trusted to make their own decisions, and, know it or not, Trump’s supporters are proving the point of democracy’s enemies.
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James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.