When, two weeks ago, 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi triumphantly lifted the gavel that empowers the new House majority to initiate the process of presidential impeachment, the Assembly exploded with joy. On the same day and the other side of the planet, the Chinese people were silently celebrating their conquering of the dark side of the Moon.
There is a substantial difference between the wooden gavel needed to call the House to order and the technology necessary for a Chinese spacecraft to land on the side of the Moon that cannot be reached by signals from mother Earth. To reach the mute side of the moon, China needed to build a special relay satellite that established permanent communication between the Chinese space command and the spacecraft Chang’e-4, or Chinese goddess, while landing on the soft lunar soil and releasing the rover now rolling through the darkness. With this landing, China has reached the most advanced level in deep space exploration. The news is astonishing, the achievement mind-blowing, especially considering the fact that only 40 years ago China was a land of poor peasants and in a shortage of everything.
And what might Pelosi achieve with the hardwood gavel that she so proudly showed to the colorful and much younger crowd of freshly elected representatives? The comparison between the speaker’s gavel in the hands of Democrats and the Chang’e-4 that landed on the far side of the Moon is deliberate. It indicates how the once-opulent United States has lost touch with reality, obsessively following and debunking myriads of lies and insanities generated by the clown they elected into the White House. From deep in space, the celebration of the gavel in the hands of a veteran politician is not something the aliens, or even the Chinese for that matter, would care about.
The images of the gavel and the moon might, therefore, be a long-awaited symbol of the passage of power on our planet from one to another. Since too many bad seeds have been planted–as geopolitician Ian Bremmer claims in his New Years predictions–the world is no longer capable of stopping the looming crisis. It’s not only about the U.S. losing its breadth but the disruption and erosion of the old, post-WWII alliances. We can no longer know or predict which world destiny will favor when implosion rears its ugly face, Bremmer seems to be saying.
The coming of America’s “Brave New World” after the midterm elections two months ago had me convinced that Pelosi’s claim for the leadership of the Democratic party was grotesque. I thought that somebody younger should get a chance to stop Trump’s madness. I wrote:
Pelosi is evidently the wrong candidate for the party’s requisite change. Perhaps as much as Hillary Clinton in 2008 and 2016, Pelosi acts entitled to the job. Among the new breed of young Democrats, however, the experienced, well-connected and power-seeking Pelosi is not considered an inspiration. She’s considered instead as an obstacle blocking a necessarily speedy party renovation. It is legitimate to think that Democrats could have done better without Pelosi during this election, and their survival may depend on her replacement. Despite a leftward transformation of the House, it’s in the Senate where Trump’s powers are manifest, emboldened by the old, white, male generation of supremacists and gun-lobbied leaders. Between this president and the Senate, a double whammy that might last way beyond 2020 thrives.
Nancy Pelosi and her generation of politicians, from both aisles of the Congress, are incapable of tackling challenges that derive from the might of global capital, the exponential growth of technology and resulting job loss; climate change, and so many other contemporary crises. But after I saw Pelosi at work, with her capacity to tackle power and use it without fear while defending what is left of the liberal institutions, I am convinced that she is in the right spot to eliminate the Trump virus. No matter how painful it was to watch the bloodless image of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as they tried to comment on President Trump’s nonsensical address to the nation, I am sure that Pelosi, as the third most powerful person in the country, will deliver his head. One might just turn off the TV and plug back in when all this is over. Everything considered the only legitimate way to get rid of Trump will be to oust him with the same votes he was elected by. The role of Pelosi and the House is to put the GOP in Senate in the position to do it. Pelosi, now at the helm of the Congress, knows the mechanics of power and, most importantly, knows the Presidency better than this president.
But the gavel is important also for a couple of other reasons. First of all, the offensive behavior of this President in the last two years has enraged women, minorities, and every reasonable person in this country. It was humiliation and disregard of the people that enabled the recent change in the balance of power. In a country which, 100 years ago, did not allow women the right to vote, there are now 106 female members of the House to uphold Pelosi’s gavel. Sure, one may say that it is not enough but, compared to the situation from just two months ago, the newly composed House of the Representatives is no longer grey and male-only. The elected officials of the Democratic party are starting to correspond much better to the picture of the United States’ current demography–a reflection–with women well-represented and minorities making their first entrance through the main door of American political life.
In the age when big corporations and banks are crushing and buying political power, the entrance of the fresh, angry and, for the time being, uncorrupted forces of contemporary America is good news. There is no major damage if, during an informal meeting, a newly elected and passionate Congresswoman called the president a “motherfucker” who needs to be impeached. Trump should never have been allowed to run for the president after the release of audio of him bragging about how his power allows him to grab women “by the pussy.” American voters pardoned Trump this vulgar, offensive behavior and seated him in the White House. Calling him names is only a revelation of the political passion of long-offended people, who are now seeking revenge for his inhumanity. Rashida Tlaib, the newly elected Congresswoman, has time enough to learn. And there will be much to see and learn in the next few months.
Can we now say that the blue wave may actually wash away Trumpism, that Democracy is returning through the side door, but returning nonetheless? It is hard, perhaps premature, to call a victory because one electoral wave does not mean much for the revival of the middle class, the only fundamental condition for the growth of democracy and political debate. Without the middle class, we are doomed.
But if America is again trying to find a medicine for what seems to be the terminal disease of our times, China again keeps to the other side of the planet. Branko Milanovic, the lead economist of the World Bank’s Research Department and Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University, an expert on the global inequality as his well-known study demonstrates, reports that the Chinese urban income distribution tripled since 1988. In the same period of time, the German income distribution gained only 7 percent; those in the United States 26 percent; while those in Japan lost out in real terms. But even Milanovic, who is getting increasingly enthusiastic about the growth of the Chinese middle class, had to admit that economic improvement does not necessarily bring democracy. Actually, in a more recent commentary, Milanovic expressed some doubts that this might ever happen in China, since the country from ancient times follows an alternative path of development, with current Chinese leadership arguing categorically that China is not the West and therefore refusing the western value system and democracy. He writes:
China’s market economy back then (from Song to Qing dynasties) was far more developed than in Western Europe (probably until about 1500). However, those commercial interests were never able to organize themselves sufficiently, so that they could come even close to dictating Chinese state policy.
The authoritarian state left rich merchants in peace, so long as they did not threaten it (i.e., as long as they did not “grow too big for their boots”). But it always kept a wary eye on them.
This leads us to present-day China. The current Communist-party dominated government and the distribution of political power between it and the already formed capitalist class is reminiscent of this traditional relationship.
The Chinese government is helpful to the interests of the bourgeoisie, but only so long as these interests do not run contrary to the objectives of the state (that is, of the elite that runs the state).
One could argue many historical points that Milanovic left out in order to be able to offer his nicely wrapped explanation of the Chinese authoritarian model of development. One can hardly compare the Song dynasty (approximately the presumed time of Marco Polo’s travel to China) to the period of Deng Xiaoping reforms in China. However, leaving aside the historical facts, we cannot deny that the authoritarian model reinforced by economic reforms enhanced after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, and has been far more successful than the western model. But we, as does Milanovic, can only talk about the economic success of the Chinese model, obtained by pointed guns and in exchange for the surrender of political and human rights.
This is something that Trump, in his bizarre, confused and Byzantine way, is trying to impose in the United States. So, while we are all glad about the Chinese success on the Moon, the U.S. and the rest of the old and tired democracies needed that gavel back. What is done with it remains to be seen?