News and Events

2020-05-25 00:00:01

U.S. Prof Schultz: The End of the American Century

prezidento-rinkimai-jav-dr-david-schultz-1422 News of America’s global supremacy and victory as well as demise are often premature.  In 1942 journalist Henry Luce described the coming years as the American Century.  And it looked like he was right despite some setbacks.  Yet with the coming of the coronavirus and the Trump presidency, this time maybe the end of the American Century is near and the emergence of the Chinese Century is here, writes U.S. Hamline University Prof. David Schultz.

We will bury you!" This was a famous claim made in 1956 by 1st Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev.  It did not happen.  The USA went on to win the Cold War. After 1991, with the breakup of the  Soviet Unio...n, it appeared that America was the sole surviving super power and would dominate the world politically, economically, and militarily.  Francis Fukuyama boldly pronounced in a 1989 article the end of history whereby the USA had emerged as the last surviving superpower and that there was no competing supernarrative to America’s version of democratic neo-liberal capitalism.

It appears 30 years later no one told the Peoples’ Republic of China this.

The world that the USA faces today under President Trump is very different from the world of 1945 (after WWII or the Great War), 1956, or even 1991.  Trump’s approach to foreign policy in terms of his disdain for multi-lateral agreements such as NATO, his downplaying of diplomacy, and his rejection of pursuing human rights, democracy, and a turn against immigration, have diminished the U.S. politically.  The America First approach to the world has meant a retreat in the U.S. from the global stage, hurting the ability of the country to pursue its foreign policy objectives.

This retreat has created a void potentially to be filled by China.  Moreover, the world in 2020 is different from 1945, 1956, or 1991, when the U.S. economy was by far the largest in the world.

In 1945, the U.S. GDP was four times larger than the next closest country with about 40% of the world GDP.  Even in 1960, U.S. GDP was 40% of the world.  No one else was close. Today in 2020, U.S. GDP is 14.9% of the world GDP. In 2024, it will be just 13.8%.  China’s GDP in 2020 is 19.2% of the world and in 2024 it will be 21.4%.  The European Union in 2020 is 15.8% of the global GDP.  The U.S. just does not have the global economic dominance and soon perhaps China will.

Presently the U.S. still dominates the world with its military budget, but China is growing and there are questions about America’s willingness to use military force, diplomacy,  or even honor treaty obligations such as NATO.  China and the U.S. are now rivals. It is unlikely that this changes with the 2020 American elections.  These two countries are locked in a new Cold War.  It is a war that will look different from the USSR/USA one, but still America and China are adversaries more than friends.

In effect, with or without Trump as president, the U.S. is at a global turning point in terms of its status in the world.  Its handling of the coronavirus has further eroded confidence in America as it has shown its inability and unwillingness to be a global leader and addressing the problem.  Cutting funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is merely one sign of the loss of leadership.

All this opens a window, this time for a rival, such as China, to transform the American Century into the coming China Century.  This time the communists might win the new Cold War. And it appears that there is little sign that President Trump is capable or prepared to confront this challenge.

President Trump’s verbal attacks on China and blaming it for the coronavirus are not productive, but no surprise.  Four years ago, he ran against immigrants and foreign countries and in favor of a brand of ultra-nationalism.  His recent attacks on China fit into that rhetoric.  In addition, blaming China for the coronavirus problem in the U.S. is consistent with a pattern of shifting blame to other nations or people for his failures.  China is the scapegoat for his mistakes, merely a distraction.

President Trump fails to realize that the U.S. needs China and vice versa.  China is a source of inexpensive consumer and other goods the U.S. wants, as well as a source of credit. Trade with China has mostly been mutually beneficial.  This rhetoric does not help the U.S. but it might help President Trump personally with his political base.

The best-case scenario for US-China relations is one of mutual economic dependence.  Making the two economically dependent on one another helps to ensure that the two share many interests and it reduces the likelihood that one would jeopardize a relationship that could lead to war or serious economic damage to both economies. Think of the old Cold War containment policy with economic interdependence.  At some point, the U.S. economy will be smaller than China’s and the time is now for the U.S. to forge an interdependence to prevent Chinese dominance.

President Trump cannot change his rhetoric toward China.  Attacking China benefits him politically with his base and is consistent with blaming immigrants or others for U.S. or his personal problems.  He is struck with his rhetoric and politics.  If President Trump were re-elected, do not look to see a change.  President Trump is not the type to shift from appealing to his base and China will economically be even more of a perceived threat to the U.S. as its economy grows again and the U.S. stagnates.

As much as President Trump wants to make America great again, his policies are not helping and it is also not clear that he can do much to reverse a trend, even if he wants.  America is 78 years into its Century. It may be coming to its close soon.

David Schultz is a Professor in the Dept. of Political Science at Hamline University and Editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education (JPAE). He is a member of Mykolas Romeris University's MRU Justice LAB. His latest book is "Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter."