eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Primaries Expose Crisis For Moderates On Both Right And Left

It's not just Donald Trump ...

At a Bernie Sanders rally in Missouri
At a Bernie Sanders rally in Missouri
E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON, D.C. â€" Obama Derangement Syndrome is striking Republicans once again.

To avoid having to answer for the rise of Donald Trump, they want to hold the man in the White House responsible for the emergence of a demagogic showman who has been the loudest voice challenging the legal right of the winner of two elections to be there.

Obama picked his words carefully but with some quiet glee when he was asked about this at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week. "I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things," Obama said, "but being blamed for their primaries and who they're selecting for their party is" â€" here he paused, enjoying the moment â€" "novel."

On the contrary, Obama insisted, it was Republicans who had created "an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive" and allowed "the circus we've been seeing to transpire." He urged his opponents to "do some introspection."

That would be nice, wouldn't it?

I should acknowledge a stake in this fight, having published a book in January called Why The Right Went Wrong arguing that the emergence of Trump was the logical consequence of a half-century of conservative history and of the steady legitimation of extremist ideas within the GOP. The nation, not just the Republican Party, desperately needs a different and more constructive brand of conservatism.

But if progressives are to beat back an increasingly virulent right and encourage the emergence of a more temperate form of conservatism, they have to ponder the crisis on their own side that is visible in this campaign and in most of the European democracies as well.

Sanders: symptom or cure?

The strength of Bernie Sanders' challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left, like the radicalization of American conservatism, is a symptom of the decay of a moderate brand of progressivism that rose in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and Tony Blair was Britain's prime minister. Its ideology was rooted in a belief that capitalism would deliver the economic goods and could be balanced by a "competent public sector, providing services of quality to the citizen and social protection for those who are vulnerable."

Those last words are Blair's from a collection of essays by 11 center-left politicians from around the world released last Friday by the Center for American Progress and Canada 2020 that coincided with Trudeau's visit to the United States. The title of their effort, "Global Progress," is optimistic, and Bill Clinton, for one, continued to express confidence that government could "empower people with the tools to make the most of their own lives and to create the institutions and conditions for them to succeed."

This never stopped being a good idea, but the sober reflections of Ricardo Lagos, Chile's former president, pointed to the "significant challenge to progressive politics" created by the economic crisis of 2008. It raised "profound questions" about policies "that favored deregulation of the economy and allowed the financial system to self-regulate." The moderate left, it turns out, had more confidence in a loosely governed capitalism than was merited by the facts.

And in the post-crash period, progressives largely lost the argument against austerity policies. A significant exception was the United States during the first two years of Obama's term: Keynesian policies helped lead to a revival of the U.S. economy that was faster and more robust than in other places. But continued economic sluggishness, Lagos argued, feeds "the anger and alienation of a dangerous populism on the extreme left and right." Trudeau himself said Friday that the economically excluded "don't feel like this idea of progress holds."

Lodewijk Asscher, deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, wrote of the challenge to national identity created by immigration and the fear of terrorism. He called for "building a society based on solidarity in which people are seen as individuals instead of members of their group and someone's background remains just a background." Well, yes, but as Asscher no doubt knows, this is easier said than done.

If Republicans delude themselves that Obama is responsible for Trump, there's little hope for the soul-searching their party requires â€" all the more so after the violence and threats at Trump's rallies.

But progressives of moderate inclinations can't use the right's shortcomings to blind them to their own call for reflection. Those who believe in gradual, steady progress need to provide plausible responses to a world both less secure and less orderly than it was in the 1990s. Otherwise, the alternatives, as Trump is showing us, will be both irrational and grim.

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Society

Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.


Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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