The reader of Mr. Ganesh beguiling collection of aphorisms, that frame his History Made to Measure, has to admire its style, yet its measure of not the ‘world’s authoritarians’, but that of China, the featured player in this paragraph. (There is so much to choose from, I’ll be selective.)
It is not as if the world’s authoritarians need the reputational boost. New data confirm that China’s economy did more than merely avoid recession last year. Its Covid-19 vaccines have takers from Indonesia to Hungary via the Gulf, neatly inverting the Sino-Soviet split of the 1970s, Beijing has struck an investment deal with the EU. Those sounds you hear are the first notes of transatlantic discord over the emergent superpower.
Next to be featured in the Ganesh Melodrama:
Such is the world that confronts Joe Biden as he takes office on Wednesday. Not since 1945, when Harry Truman felt the weight of the “moon, the stars and all the planets”, has more rested on a new US president.
What really weighed upon Truman? Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And Joe Biden is the almost last gasp of the New Democrats, Harris is the Second Generation, waiting in the wings.
Mr. Ganesh then presents two hypotheticals :
If he governs well, mending the economy, dispensing vaccines, and calming the home front, he can stem the trickling away of US (and by extension western) credibility since the millennium. What started with the US’s “forever wars” and worsened with the 2008 financial crash reached a negative apotheosis with the still-raging pandemic. The west needs a success story for its own morale as much as its outward reputation.
If, on the other hand, Mr Biden fails, the sense of Chinese momentum will start to feel less like form and more like destiny. Countries with systems somewhere between multi-party democracy and absolutism might come to see the second as this century’s strong horse. Within the US, the soil will be fertilised for a populist comeback — an abler Donald Trump — in the 2024 election, with all that implies for domestic peace and intra-western comity. There is a circularity to decline.
Is this is the ‘where’ and the ‘what’ that Mr. Ganesh was aiming for?
The US had moral credit to spare, and such supremacy that it was neither easy nor worthwhile to identify the second mightiest country.
The closing paragraph, in all its historical/political obtuseness, of this Biden Apologetic, and its aim of ‘the shoring up of liberalism’s good name‘, as the most accurate descriptor of the Biden Project- the rhetorical guise of the aphorism, reminds the reader of the poverty of style over substance.
As a rule of thumb, a democracy is in good health to the extent that its politics do not matter. Ideally, the spread of outcomes from a new president should be a slightly better healthcare system or a slightly worse one. Mr Biden’s spread is nothing less than the shoring up of liberalism’s good name, or the extension of its malaise, until it hardens into fate. There is an air of the last chance about this presidency.