Why Republicans Fear China More than Democrats
Our Zoom call this week, for paid subscribers, will be at our regular time: Friday at Noon EDT.
Our guest will be Abdelfattah Abusrour, the founder and director of the Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society, which he established in 1998 in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. Abdelfattah has won many awards for his use of visual and performing arts in what he calls “beautiful resistance.”
As usual, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following week. They’ll also gain access to our library of past Zoom interviews with guests like Thomas Friedman, Ilhan Omar, Omar Barghouti, Benny Morris, Noam Chomsky, and Bret Stephens.
Sources Cited in this Video
My New York Times column, “Republicans Are Neither Internationalist Nor Isolationist. They’re Asia First.”
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See you on Friday at Noon,
Hi. Our guest this Friday at our normal time, noon ET—I had originally said it might be at 11 on Friday, but it’s actually at our normal time, noon ET—is Abdelfattah Absurour, who is the founder and director of the Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Center in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. He uses visual and performing arts in a philosophy that he calls ‘beautiful resistance,’ and has won a lot of awards for his work, and so I’m really keen to talk to him this Friday at noon.
I wanted to say something about a column I wrote in the New York Times on Wednesday, which was about the way Republicans view China. The argument was that while both parties are pretty hawkish on China in Washington, if you look at public opinion polling, you see there’s a pretty vast gap between Republicans who are much more likely to see China as an enemy, and Democrats who are more likely to see Russia as an enemy. And my argument is that many of the Republican and conservative figures, whether it’s Republican presidential candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy or Ron DeSantis, or TV figures like Tucker Carlson, get called isolationists. But they’re actually much more isolationist when it comes to Russia than they are on China.
In China, they tend to be much more hawkish. And the argument is that this taps into a history of conservative and Republican thinking going back to the beginning of the Cold War when many prominent Republicans like Robert Taft and others were not that supportive of the US being engaged militarily in Europe. Robert Taft opposed NATO’s creation in 1949. But they were very hawkish on China, and my argument is—and I’m taking this from a historian at Middlebury named Joyce Mao—that the conservative movement was very influenced by the prospect of a Christian China, that China had had a very special role in American missionary elements in the late 19th and early 20th century. And that the reason that there was so much support for Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist regime—first when it was fighting against the communists on the mainland and then again when Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan—was this notion that they represented a Christian China that would be a kind of civilizational pupil to the United States. And that then some of the hostility to communist China was because this potential civilizational pupil had become America’s civilizational enemy, and that that continues to this day. And you see that Americans who have more racial animus on domestic issues, for instance, are more likely to be hostile to China, and that white evangelical Christians have much greater levels of hostility towards China and fear of China than Black and Hispanic or religiously unaffiliated Americans.
That was the kind of the idea of a column. The reason that I wanted to write this column and that I see it as kind of part of a series of other things that are connected to this is, one of the problems I have with the way that American foreign policy discussion is often discussed in kind of elite circles, is it’s discussed as if there is one American national interest. It’s kind of a funny thing because when people talk about American domestic politics, there’s generally a very vibrant understanding that Americans of different racial and ideological and religious groups have very different visions of the nation, what the nation should be, what’s good for the nation. And yet, very often when we move to talking about foreign policy, like, we forget that exists, and we talk about the American national interest as if there’s some unified American national interest. And the recognition that the questions of race and religious identity—which are so divisive in American domestic politics—that that also leads different Americans that have very different views about American foreign policy is often lost.
And I think part of the reason that is, is because when you move from American public debates about domestic policy to American debates about foreign policy, those foreign policy debates are so much more likely to be led by white men, that a lot of the kinds of questions that are more openly discussed in domestic discussions essentially get lost or kind of ignored when we’re talking about foreign policy. But it seems to me it’s important to recognize that these same questions about racial and religious identity that shape views on domestic issues often really lead to different Americans to have quite different views about foreign policy as well. And China is one of those cases. Now, I’m not saying that one has to be, you know, a white evangelical Christian, a Trump voter who has a lot of racial resentment towards ‘woke culture’ to be afraid of China. Obviously, China is a serious kind of peer competitor to the United States in lots of ways.
But if you want to understand why it is that white evangelical Christians in the Republican party look at that same set of data about China’s rising power and react with so much more hostility and so much more fear than do Black Americans or Hispanic Americans or religiously unaffiliated Americans, I think this notion of China as a civilizational threat because it is a non-white non-Christian power—a power that many conservatives hoped would become a Christian country, but didn’t—and now represents a threat to kind of white Christian global hegemony is really important in understanding this partisan divide. And one of the things that I hope is that vis-à-vis China and other countries as well that people will be more alive to the way that questions of racial and religious identity and division domestically influence questions of American foreign policy.
It’s not that hard to find, for instance, if you listen to Tucker Carlson, right? Tucker Carlson just said last week that the reason America is hostile to Russia is that Russia is a ‘Christian country.’ So, for someone like Tucker Carlson, it clearly really does matter that Russia is a Christian country and China is not in the way he thinks about these potential threats. But I think that’s often lost in kind of establishment foreign policy conversation. Again, our conversation this Friday at noon ET will be with Abdelfattah Absurour, who is the founder and director of the Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. I hope many of you will join us.