This is a really bad week. Two big issues. And I mean big.
One: In case no one’s noticed, the US economy is being “challenged,” which is code for FUBAR, which is code for time to run for cover. When Bear Stearns gets bought out for $2 a share, and Citigroup and UBS and Merrill Lynch and other giants are brought to their knees by the subprime catastrophe, we know these are not ordinary times. I tried to say it more than a year ago and some people laughed it off with the usual lines about America’s can-do spirit and strong fundamentals – both true, but not enough to weather the storm that’s approaching. It does little to console us to see Alan Greenspan write today, “The current financial crisis in the US is likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the second world war.”
There are deep flaws in our economic structure, and the war in Iraq combined with the subprime mess rubbed a lot of salt deep into the wounds. Recovery now is not possible – at least not without bailouts and a lot of misery along the way. Bush and his stooges brought this on us with their anything-goes, to-hell-with-regulation “laissez faire” policies. And now they will use your tax dollars to bail out the very same scoundrels who wrought this misery on us. And each of us will pay a high price, with broken dreams, diminished expectations, houses we can’t sell and a painful submission to the sorrows of stagflation.
Two: Let’s look over on the other side of the world. Beijing’s chant of One World One Dream is getting drowned out by the international uproar over Tibet. Even if the line the Chinese have been spoon-fed about Tibet being “liberated” from feudalism is true, and even if the Dalai Lama actually is a pawn of the CIA, the world is still going to bristle when it perceives religious oppression and the crushing of protests. Hypocrisy, you say? Maybe. But perceptions matter, and China is not being perceived well this week.
With the Olympic Torch Relay starting in only a few days, the threat to China’s pride cannot be exaggerated; they have hitched their star to the Olympic Games, and if that star crashes and burns the country will erupt in outrage and shattered pride. I hope that doesn’t happen; I hope China will be smart enough to do something truly constructive and make peace with the unhappy Tibetans. Knowing Hu Jintao’s past, of course, one can only conclude this is unlikely. Heads will be cracked and more lies spun out by Xinhua.
Like me, all that James Fallows can see ahead is tragedy. Once again the obtuseness of the Chinese bureaucracy defies description, and you wonder where are all those brilliant, hard-working cadres you know? Why are the big decisions only made by the dummies?
The government is full of subtle thinkers, but few are in the propaganda or public security ministries. The propagandists black out news coverage and blame every problem in Tibet on what they call (when they speak in English) “hooligans” from “the Dalai clique.” Most people in China assume that Tibet, like Taiwan, Inner Mongolia, or the Muslim Xinjiang region of the northwest, is an integral and inalienable part of its territory. That’s all they have ever heard from the media and in the schools. The threat of regional “splittism” raised by riots in Tibet is in this view a true threat to national security.
Thus conditions are set for the next stage of tragedy in Tibet, as Monday’s deadline for the end of protest draws near. The government is conditioned to be tough — and to have the support of its public, and not to care about objections from overseas. It has to care more, in this year of the Olympics. Soon we’ll see how much that tempers the policy.
Huge question marks are floating in the air. How they are answered will affect many of us. I can’t say I am optimistic about either issues one or two. I suspect a lot of us are simply trying to ignore these developments, willing ourselves into a self-induced coma. Maybe that’s actually the smartest thing to do. Watching the dramas on both sides of the world unfold is simply too depressing and infuriating.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.