Chinese flags on barbed wired wall in Kashgar (Kashi), Xinjiang, China.
Chinese flags on barbed wired wall in Kashgar (Kashi), Xinjiang, China.
Humanize From Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

The US is Beginning to Look Like China

Originally published at The Epoch Times

When I visited China in 2016, I was stunned at the consumerist spectacle. High-end stores such as Versace and Cartier were as common in Shanghai and Beijing as they are on Rodeo Drive. I couldn’t believe I was in a communist country.

Maybe that is because I wasn’t. These days, China is more economically fascist than communistic. Some years ago, the Chinese Communist Party opened the door to modest un-Marxist economic freedoms and welcomed large scale Western investment. The country’s economy not only grew exponentially but the CCP gained cultural and political influence here as companies dependent on China’s cheap labor—and growing consumer clout—grew reluctant to offend the regime and risk killing the goose that lays their golden eggs.

Why did U.S. policy makers cooperate in transforming once backward China into our most challenging adversary? They hoped that once China prospered, it would grow increasingly liberal. But that never happened. If anything, China is more tyrannical now than 20 years ago. Moreover, the country’s authoritarian influence has spread beyond its borders, to the point that we are becoming more like China instead of it like us.

Of course, nothing happening in the United States approaches the Uyghur genocide, the brutal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, or the suppression of Hong Kong. But that should not make us sanguine. Power in the United States is increasingly concentrated within an elite cadre of politically progressive fellow ideological travelers—politicians, academics, teachers union leaders, multinational corporate executives, journalists, and the teeming woke minions of Big Tech.

This current fact of civil life has led to policies that have disturbing parallels with those of China.

Take that country’s pernicious “social credit” system that socially excommunicates people who engage in CCP-unapproved activities. Sure, that system is government driven. But how are the ultimate consequences qualitatively different than our own cancel culture?

Use the “wrong” pronouns to describe a transgendered person, and you could find yourself out of a job. If your social media reflects attitudes that are now deemed racist—even when never meant that way—and your acceptance to a major university could be revoked. Write the wrong opinions about COVID policy and your social media accounts will be terminated.

And now the Feds have joined the cancel game. Just last week, the Biden Administration announced that it coordinates with Facebook to flag posts for censoring which the government contends spread vaccine “misinformation.”

What does that even mean? Posts that contain provable factual errors—or as I suspect—heterodox opinions about COVID policy generally that are disapproved by the administration? When challenged on the censorship policy, Press Secretary Jen Psaki tripled down calling for uniform social media censorship across the industry, stating, “You shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others if you are providing misinformation.”

Who believes that once government coordinates with social media to censor content, that the silenced will be confined to those weighing in on controversial medical issues? To say the least, government-inspired suppression of on-line speech seems disturbingly similar to the totalitarian means the CCP deploys to control the information available to the Chinese people.

So, just start competing social platforms, libertarians say. Right. Sure. Parler tried that, and it was driven off the Internet for a time by a seemingly coordinated assault by Apple, Google, and Amazon that silenced the Twitter competitor just as effectively as the CCP does websites it disfavors.

The CCP also hates faith as a competitor for the people’s loyalty. Freedom of religion is also under increasing pressure in the United States. Of course, religious minorities are not in danger being sent to concentration camps in America. But official support for the free exercise of religion—guaranteed by the First Amendment—has become decidedly precarious.

The peril comes primarily from an unholy cabal of sexual identity social justice warriors and politicians/government bureaucrats at the local, state, and federal levels. Most infamously, a Colorado court recently ruled against Jack Philips for refusing to design a cake celebrating a gender transition because it violated his Christian values, this despite his winning a similar earlier case in the United States Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman was fined for refusing to design a floral arrangement for a same sex marriage based on her religious beliefs. Once all the court costs and other such financial issues are factored in, she could be bankrupted.

Illustrating how tech companies choose sides in such controversies, GoFundMe refused to permit use of its site to raise money in her support. Another bad sign: The Supreme Court recently refused to accept the case for review.

Constraint on the free exercise of religion is now moving into healthcare. Members of the medical intelligentsia want to force doctors to perform abortions—even if they are religiously opposed.

In California, the courts have allowed a Catholic hospital to be sued for refusing to permit a transgender hysterectomy.

Meanwhile, the Equality Act—which has passed in the House of Representatives and is supported by the Biden Administration—would gut the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

And how can anyone look at critical race theory training forced on corporate employees, government workers, and even members of the military without thinking of China’s Cultural Revolution?  What about the media ignoring Hunter Biden’s financial corruption and shrugging at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home scandal? These days, the media act more like China’s Publicity Department—which issues regime propaganda—than a true Fourth Estate.

Unequal justice is another hallmark of totalitarian systems. China’s leaders have nothing to fear from law enforcement, but perceived regime opponents like Hong Kong’s democracy advocates face years in prison.

Again, there are disturbing parallels. General Michael Flynn’s life was destroyed by a special prosecutor for supposedly lying to the FBI while national security officials like James Clapper—who lied in Congressional testimony—not only go unprosecuted but land cushy jobs as television commentators. Why the difference? Flynn was an enemy of the liberal Establishment and Clapper is part of it.

President Joe Biden recently said that the world is witnessing a contest between “autocracy and democracy.” He’s right. But there is more irony in that statement than Biden may understand. We are certainly not a dictatorship like China, but to paraphrase the famous maxim of the cartoon character Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is becoming us.”

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.