To fight environmentalist sabotage, conservatives need their own set of business principles.
America with American Characteristics
We can’t beat China without facing up to the capture of the ruling class.
The following is a transcript of remarks originally given in Miami at the National Conservatism Conference in September 2022.
China poses the most formidable foreign challenge we face. But in my view, the most formidable aspect of this challenge is domestic. The obstacle is us ourselves.
More specifically, it is our ruling class—those seated atop the commanding heights of our most influential institutions from Harvard to Hollywood; Seattle to Silicon Valley; and Wall Street to Washington, D.C. The very people who see events like this, and their participants, as “dangers to our democracy”—rather than as essential exercises for restoring some semblance of a republic.
I chose to focus on the ruling class today, not because there aren’t myriad other aspects to the China challenge worthy of exploration—economic, military, technological, and beyond. These are critical topics, meriting substantial focus if we are to devise a plan to defend our national interest.
But as a practical matter, it will be near-impossible to implement and execute any such plan if every power center in the country is averse to it because their occupants have conflated China’s self-interest with their own. We will not get anywhere while our leadership is serving, at best, as unwitting agents of influence for Beijing. And that is the result of the last 50 years of U.S.-China policy: The Chinese Communist Party has pulled off the ultimate influence operation, using our greed, naivete, and the nature of our elites and their institutions against us.
If we hope to triumph, a precondition is not only that the elements of U.S. national power be as robust as possible, but that those at the helm have the will to wield them in defense of the American way of life. And we are far from that today.
Combatting the China challenge therefore requires overcoming an American ruling class whose zealotry for globalism, environmentalism, and Wokeism—pillars of the new secular state anti-religion—collectively serve as one big euphemism for China First. This anti-religion serves to strengthen China, our greatest enemy, and weaken America, which is portrayed as scourge of the Earth, conceived in sin, and brimming today with semi-fascists.
The ruling class has been literally and figuratively invested in China’s rise for nearly 50 years. It threatens to make its belief in the inevitability of China’s rise to world preeminence a self-fulfilling prophecy. If this ruling class persists in its present course unchallenged, it may never give us a chance to combat Communist China. Rather, we may well converge with it, as can be seen in our elites’ aping of the CCP’s tactics in a bid to subjugate the deplorables and cement oligarchic power and control, eviscerating liberty and justice and threatening to render us “America in Name Only,” or post-America.
Distraction and Interference
In short, we can’t talk about the China challenge without acknowledging the elephant in the room: that the very people who for decades helped create this Frankenstein’s Monster, as Richard Nixon some decades ago lamented might rise, remain in power. That is, how can we expect to achieve a different outcome when the people who are in charge are the very ones who got us into this mess?
These are the same people who worked for six years and counting to destroy the greatest challenger to Communist China’s hegemonic ambitions—Donald J. Trump. The same people who helped bury the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, defending Patriarch Joe, who has supported China’s rise at the highest levels of power for years—while his family and therefore he himself profited, at minimum indirectly.
Central to the effort to get Trump, and then to protect Biden, was the claim of nefarious collusion with Russia in the former case, and nefarious disinformation from Russia in the latter case. The net effect of all this has been to pull focus away from the preeminent Chinese threat and encourage an obsessive fixation on junior partner Russia.
Now to be fair, the China challenge would remain were our ruling class Codevillian in its approach to the world—that is, if it adhered to the foreign policy of John Quincy Adams and the bulk of our leaders for the first century of U.S. history. The challenge would remain were our ruling class doggedly devoted to pursuing the interests of the American people. And the challenge would remain were our ruling class wise and virtuous, steeped in the teachings of Athens and Jerusalem.
That is, even if our betters—or worsers—were national conservatives, Communist China would still pose a threat to the American way of life and compel our attention. The CCP is deathly serious about protecting, preserving, and growing its power. Its leaders are ruthlessly committed to pursuing this goal and thus threatening our interests. The CCP has no qualms about lying, cheating, stealing, and massacring to achieve its ends, and it is uniquely suited to penetrate, exploit, and subvert those countries with which it interacts.
The CCP may not be omnipotent. Its military might fail under duress; its leaders could end up at each other’s throats; it suffers from corruption, and demographics might doom it. But if nothing else, its leaders appear to know what they want, and appear willing to stop at nothing to make China the world’s hegemon, which would be a disaster for the American way of life.
And our elites seem all too willing to oblige them in this aim. They are most responsible for fueling Communist China’s rise to our greatest adversary, incorporating them into the global trade, military, and diplomatic architecture. Their decades-long project of engagement, accommodation, and integration has left them, and us, compromised.
The more we have embraced China, the greater its leverage has grown over us. Every interaction has proven corrupting for us, not liberalizing for them. Consider the extent of the capture:
American universities take in billions of dollars in tuition money from Chinese nationals, and billions in gifts from Chinese sources. The CCP has targeted and penetrated our academic and research institutions to pilfer our crown jewels. The infiltration units once known as Confucius Institutes persist, re-branded.
Hollywood too is heavily invested in Chinese productions, and vice versa. An area that was once influential in producing American propaganda in the most positive sense now often toes the Chinese Communist Party’s favored line—while helping it project its own propaganda around the world.
In media old and new, the story is the same. Newspapers take millions in ad dollars to run Chinese mouthpiece inserts. You are no doubt aware of Big Tech’s dalliances with China big and small, from Apple’s $275 billion deal with Chinese authorities to build its tech sector, to Amazon’s decision to bar negative reviews on a collection of Xi’s speeches.
Wall Street, for its part, advises, underwrites, and manages Chinese assets, while Chinese companies continue tapping our capital markets and enjoying investments from unsuspecting Americans via their 401ks and pensions.
And then of course there’s Washington, D.C. Need I again invoke the name Joe Biden, or Dianne Feinstein, or Eric Swalwell when it comes to compromise? Here was a headline from just a few days ago—the kind that’s commonplace if you watch this space:
“Pentagon Funded Former Chinese Government Employee, CCP Member’s Nuclear Warfare Research.”
And from the article:
“The former Chinese government employees completed the DOD grants at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace while CIA Director William Burns was the think tank’s president.”
Even if members of Congress and in the administrative state were stalwart China hawks, they’d still face pressure from the powerful constituents we’ve already discussed to ease up. And as noted, we have an elite not only wholly infiltrated and corrupted by Communist China, but increasingly eager to emulate it in a bid to defend its regime.
As I’ve been chronicling over the last two years, our ruling class has cast dissenters from its orthodoxy as traitors and terrorists. It has threatened to sic the national security and law enforcement apparatus upon them, and in some cases made good on the threat. It is pursuing a monopoly on narrative through pervasive censorship. And its putatively private sector allies are engaging in increasingly brazen acts of cancellation, deplatforming, and discrimination.
The National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, the Stalinist January 6 Select Committee, other elements of the January 6 jihad, and the now-defunct but still effectively functioning Disinformation Governance Board—part and parcel of a government effort to combat dissent under banner of “mis-, dis-, and mal-information” are themselves testaments to the eerie parallels, directionally, between our regime and China’s.
This is setting aside the cultural Marxist march through the boardroom and the classroom, wherein people are increasingly made to sign loyalty oaths to advance in American life, engage in struggle sessions, and publicly submit to Wokeism. We increasingly have a Chinese social credit system with Western characteristics.
So what is to be done? I’d humbly submit we have to operate on two levels:
We have to try to achieve what we can, where we can, with what we have, which means developing a counter-elite who can determine the most efficacious moves to defend America’s national interest in the face of China and a rotten ruling class. We must communicate these strategies and engender widespread political support for them among an American people already favorably disposed.
Simultaneously, however, we have to be undertaking the much bigger project of reorienting the elite itself—if not ultimately replacing it with the burgeoning counter-elite.
The China challenge is really a manifestation of the NatCon challenge—to remake our institutions according to a superior vision. This is an uphill battle. But remember, our current progressive rulers were a smaller, less powerful, fringe group a century ago. Today, their long march is complete.
Our vision must be focused on independence, because that is precisely what we stand to lose in a China First world. What would independence look like?
It would look like a capacity to produce and deliver essential goods and services without the help of any other nation—and certainly not any adversarial ones—free and open waterways over which to trade; a communications infrastructure hardened against our worst enemies; unchallenged economic, military, and technological primacy (a deterrent against threats all on its own); and all of this based on a vibrant, thriving, dynamic American culture rooted in a virtuous, patriotic people.
Independence, in other words, requires an America that is great and good—one that has a willingness to thrive, and a confidence in its mission, values, and history. Ensuring that independence will require boldness, originality, and courage—quintessentially American traits.
If we are not fully independent, we will be dependent—and no American should be able to look his children and grandchildren in the eyes, comfortably accepting that they might have to endure such a fate. It is time to declare that independence from the CCP, rise to the occasion, and honor those who came before us, lest we lose this great country. If we are to triumph over China, we must be, once again, America.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.