Elections: America’s Democratic Release Valve

Oct 28, 2019 by

What happens in China does not stay in China. The relationship between China and the USA is the most important bilateral relationship in the world today. Going forward all major world issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, D.C. Yet, most Americans are painfully ignorant about all things China. This needs to change.

What can American citizens learn from the Hong Kong/Chinese people as they enter multiple months of an unprecedented and perhaps the largest protests in human history?

The Hong Kong protesters are worried about Beijing extending their autocratic reach into the former British colony with protests that began over concerns about a controversial bill that has since been suspended after a series of large demonstrations. The proposed government bill would have allowed extradition from the territory to the Chinese mainland.

Defiant pro-democracy marchers continue to turn out in record numbers marching along the streets of Hong Kong in the pouring rain: 1.7 million strong in one protest march. Imagine even 20 percent of Hong Kong’s massive population (7.4 million in 2017) demonstrating in the American streets. 

The demonstrations continued in spite of China’s calling their actions “behavior that is close to terrorism” and the protesters ‘terrorists’ along with a massive show of para-military force gathered on the other side of the border between Hong Kong and China. Chinese President Xi Jinping cautioned over the weekend that any effort to split with China will result in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder” amid ongoing unrest in Hong Kong.


The demonstrators’ demands have morphed along with their anger about the perceived erosion of their freedoms and a call for greater democracy. Many Hong Kong citizens are petrified about what their future holds under Beijing’s Communist Party rule. Yet, even when Britain ruled Hong Kong, the city was never a true democracy.
China, with the bad taste of the century of humiliation fresh on their minds has vowed to not allow others to interfere in their internal affairs.

On paper Hong Kong is an autonomous territory in southeastern China, largely free to manage its own affairs based on “one country, two systems” — a national unification policy developed in the 1980s by China’s former leader, Deng Xiaoping. This degree of autonomy includes an independent judiciary and freedoms not allowed on the mainland. Hong Kong has been “guaranteed” this distinct system of rule until 2047. Those protesting feel these guarantees are quickly eroding and there is a greater slide toward authoritarianism.

The people of Hong Kong have been following tried-and-true democratic principles of freedom of assembly and speech. Sit-ins, rallies, and boycotts are part of the DNA of America. Now the protests have grown increasingly more violent and to push a range of issues opposing Beijing’s Communist Party’s growing influence. Frighteningly, both sides show no signs of backing down.

The Communist Party Leaders in Beijing will not tolerate the threat to their authority and rule to go unchecked forever.  And the Hong Kong protest show no sign of letting up. Tragically, the classic precondition for a successful negotiation —victory for both sides — seems illusive at best. 

With Xi Jinping enshrined as China’s president for life, the Hong Kong people don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next democratic election for the potential for change to take place. I fear what the future will bring.https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2019/08/15/opinion-hong-kong-fights-its-freedom/2007662001/

Back In America

There is tremendous angst in America about President Trump’s behavior, policies, and the ill-rational acts he makes on a daily basis. The US democratically controlled House are initiating Impeachment hearing and President Trump’s popularity continues to slip in the polls.
There has been a rare and unapologetic bipartisan congressional rebuke for President Trump on his Ukraine and Syria. Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham, Liz Cheney all part with president on his most recent erratic acts. 

Yet, not since the days following the surprise election of the Disrupter-in-Chief, President Trump has there been a mass mobilization to march on Washington – why not?  

Imagine if Americans were matching on Washington in the numbers of Hong Kongers taking to the streets.

Letting Off Steam

People take to the streets out of desperation, often at great personal risk when they feel they have no other choice. Democracy provides a ‘jiggerler’ for our frustration and anger,  a device like that used by my mom on her pressure cooker: a device that lets off just enough steam to prevent the pot from blowing.

So, rather than taking to the streets, Americans opposed to President Trump and his policies are engaging in the democratic process and in the campaigns of the Democrats (and Republican primary challenge campaigns) currently running for the office of President. There is also hearing being held in Congress about Impeaching the President. 

The election process and Impeaching proceedings are acting as a pressure cooker jiggerler in America today.

I suspect and fear that no matter which candidate and political party eventually captures the White House, the other side may explode and take to the streets.

A House Divided

People need a reason to believe that their political system is not rigged and will work for them. Sadly there is no shared vision or common agenda being advanced by the current occupant of the White House that is working to unite the American people.

Sadder still is this reflection by one of America’s greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, prophetic words as true today as it was during the Civil War: “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.

 Truth. Facts. Rule of Law.

Organize. March. Demonstrate. Vote!.

Americans cannot stand by and allow our democracy and liberty to become history. 

Tom Watkins has a lifelong interest in China and has been a participant observer of the political process on the local, state and national level. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools, 2001-05, state mental health deputy director and director 1983-90.And the president and CEO of the economic council of Palm Beach County, FL 1996-01. Reach Watkins at: tdwatkins88@gmail.comTo read more Watkins on China see:

The People’s Republic of China Turns 70 – A Lifetime Look Back

https://domemagazine.com/the-peoples-republic-of-china-turns-70/CHINA US Focus

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Francis

    We are seeing attacks on our Democracy. We now have pockets of local politicians passing local laws that forbid demonstrations on issues important to local people. These are being passed and enforced in different states.
    Part of our rights as American citizens is the Right for Peaceful assembly.
    Trump views dictators such as Putin, Kim Jong-Un and Binali Yildirim as hero’s. He can’t understand why he doesn’t have the same “respect” from Americans as they do from their citizens. Some of the Right have threaten Civil War and violence is he is Impeached and he is encouraging these threats. We are in a Constitutional Crisis.
    It should be Country before Party but too many of the leaders in Washington have forgotten that and that they work for us and can be fired by voting them out.