Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
We’ve reached that point in the Wuhan pandemic when we start talking about how the world will change after the crisis passes. The impact on everything from the media to globalism is being reassessed, and prognostications about the future, both good and bad, are being promulgated. But those hoping for improvement are likely to be disappointed, just as those who said “this changes everything” were after the terrorist attacks on 9/ll. To quote Adam Smith, “there is a lot of ruin in a nation,” as stubborn inertia created by entrenched vested interests and received wisdom protect the status quo.
The media’s performance during the virus crisis has been par for the course in their unhinged zeal to damage the Trump administration, which has made the president’s attempt to handle the crisis even more difficult. From claims that Trump called the outbreak a “hoax,” to accusations that his comments about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine were “snake oil,” the media have doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on their usual repertoire of fake “facts,” anonymous leaks, bought-and-paid-for “experts,” dishonest editing, and outright lies––even to the point of impeding treatment that might save lives.
Worse yet, they have reinforced China’s propaganda about the origins of the virus and the regime’s claim of great success in fighting it. Indeed, the media have become so shameless that they contradict their own statements in a few weeks or even days––telling the public the virus wasn’t serious, then criticizing Trump for not taking it serious enough while they hysterically portrayed it as the end of times.
One would think that such blatant dishonesty and hypocrisy might lead to reform, particularly given plummeting numbers of viewers and being ranked last in polls about the trustworthiness of public institutions. Not a chance. The degeneration of the media is irreversible, for it has been corrupt for decades now in its partisan biases. In the Sixties, the bias became more open in the coverage of the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Their disdain for conservatives was obvious in their treatment of Republican presidents from Nixon to Reagan to both Bushes.
But it became blatant during the two terms of Barack Obama, when all pretenses to objectivity and balance were dropped in the media’s refusal to vet him as a candidate and their unwillingness to report his failures in both domestic and foreign policy, not to mention their embarrassing sycophancy and lapdog groveling. The candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump pushed them over the edge, but they had been dancing on it for a long time.
Given how deeply this professional malfeasance has penetrated the industry, it is beyond shame and reform. Indeed, their coverage of the Wuhan virus outbreak is laying down yet another fake predicate like Russia “collusion” and Ukrainian “quid pro quo” for their upcoming one-sided, partisan coverage of the presidential election.
Next, our relationship with China seems ripe for a transformation. There is no doubt that China’s cover-up of the outbreak last December turned it into a pandemic. Charles Lipson in Real Clear Politics succinctly summarized China’s misdeeds:
The Chinese Communist Party, like all dictatorships, maintains tight control over information. It gives out only what helps the regime, hides whatever hurts it, spews propaganda, and cracks down on anyone who speaks out of turn. The Wuhan doctors who first sounded the alarm bells were immediately silenced. Science labs, which decoded the viral structure, were shut down and their data destroyed. China still won’t share vital information about how the virus works and how it affects different populations. Reporters, both professional and amateur, who mentioned the pandemic were suppressed. Some international reporters were expelled. Some locals have not been seen again.
And China lied about person-to-person infection, corrupted the World Health Organization, and is still reporting dishonest numbers of dead and infected in China.
But why should we now be shocked about the nature of a totalitarian, thuggish regime? For all its gleaming skyscrapers and gigantic economy, its leaders are still Orwellian in their control of the government, and its censorship and intense surveillance of its citizens. Plus, China still occupies Tibet, violates international law in the South China Sea, ignores international tribunals that condemn their behavior, and has imprisoned about a million Muslim Uighurs, trying to brainwash them out of their faith––crimes against the “rules-based international order” whose champions only occasionally and feebly mention these offenses. In fact, China was recently rewarded with a seat on the Human Rights Council even as the pandemic they created still rages.
So, will unleashing a global pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands lives and seriously damaged the world’s economies be the final offense that ignites a change in our relationship with Beijing? Probably not. American businesses from tech to Hollywood to the NBA have done good business with China, taking advantage of its cheap labor and huge market, and acquiescing to the regime’s illiberal and mercantilist demands. Indeed, business has been so good that China’s violations of international protocols such as those of the World Trade Organization, including illegal dumping of products, the theft of intellectual property, and weaponizing of companies like 5G provider Huawei, have been ignored.
These economic ties and dependencies are deeply implicated in the West’s economies, and attempts to reform them are stoutly resisted, as we have seen with the heated criticism of Trump’s tariffs war and attempts to force China to play by the rules. Even now, despite China’s malign role in creating the pandemic, we hear calls for increasing cooperation with China, rather than holding it to account, coming from the Davoisie in business, academe, and government agencies.
Finally, the problem of China is at the center of criticisms of globalism or “moralizing internationalism” or the “rules-based international order.” The long-developing return of repressed nationalism is evident in the election of Donald Trump and his “America First” credo;
Brexit and the election of the Eurosceptic Boris Johnson as Prime Minister; the success of other populist/nationalist parties in Europe; the rapid violation of the once-sacred Schengen Zone and return to national border controls, and the pushback against the transnational EU and Eurozone financial regimes that has been strengthened by the pandemic and its exorbitant cost.
Exhibit one, however, in the indictment of globalism is China’s role in the pandemic, which has starkly exposed the internationalist delusions about the power of free global trade and transnational institutions and covenants to create the old Kantian dream of the peace and prosperity that would follow from lessening the power and influence of sovereign nations by subordinating them to technocratic global elites. China’s involvement in trade with the West, its growing GDP, and its membership in the World Trade Organization have not transformed it into a liberal democracy and truly free market economy.
Rather, China’s predatory economy and oppressive government have merely proved yet again the fundamental flaw of globalism: believing that all the world’s people want to be like us and enjoy freedom and prosperity, rather than to pursue their own interests and beliefs radically different from ours. The globalists have confused the potential for the peoples of the world to become like us, with the inevitability that they eventually will.
We’ve had over a century of empirical evidence that the foundational assumptions of the “rules-based international order” are flawed. The serial failures of international agreements and institutions from the First Hague Convention of 1899 to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that created the EU, from the League of Nations to the United Nations, are ample evidence that diverse peoples with diverse, often conflicting identities and aims based on custom, mores, religious beliefs, and traditions are not so eager to abandon them and become Westerners.
Of course, given the outsized power and global reach of the West, those peoples will make a pretense of endorsing our liberal notions and use the vocabulary of human rights and political freedom. And they like our antibiotics and advanced weaponry. But they join transnational institutions like the UN or sign multilateral treaties like the WTO not because they believe in the principles those institutions supposedly embody, but because they find them useful for pursuing their own particular aims and interests often inimical to our own. Just witness WHO’s eagerness to do China’s bidding and confirm its egregious propaganda campaign to shift the blame from its own responsibility for the outbreak.
Given that long record of failures followed by even greater expansion of the “rules-based international order” since the end of the Cold War, it’s unlikely that the Wuhan virus will lead to a significant rollback of that order’s reach and power. Too many powerful interests are served by it––corporations, popular culture, high culture, universities, think-tanks, journalists, and the whole global technocratic elite that fancies itself superior to the parochial citizens of diverse nations. And don’t forget, we the people have become hooked on cheap goods.
I hope I’m wrong, because the reckoning due for China and its globalists enablers is a consummation devoutly to be wished. And if the current economic disaster worsens, we may see a critical mass of voters demand that at least the U.S. as much as possible decouple economically from China. Or we may see a reaction much more sinister and dangerous. But either way, the “new world order,” as George Bush senior called it, will not go gently into that good night.