The United States is engaged in a great struggle with China for the hearts and minds of humanity.
Will democracy and free-market capitalism prevail or will nations and economies be directed by institutions similar to the Chinese Communist Party – a self-perpetuating autocracy composed of ruthless political operatives and technical experts?
More alarming than the Middle Kingdom’s breakneck growth, challenges to Western leadership in electric cars, artificial intelligence and other emerging industries, our youth is losing confidence in the American way.
In a recent poll, 46 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 indicated they believe states are more effectively governed by experts than elected officials – among those over 50, the figure was only 36 percent. Similar polls demonstrate wide youth dissatisfaction with capitalism.
Youth behavior on college campuses – demands for strict adherence to leftist orthodoxy from faculty, fellow students and visiting intellectuals, and reflexive dismissal of anything advocated by President Trump – displays an alarming contempt for the essential building blocks of any democracy.
Those are free speech, respect for disagreeing opinions and the absolute obligation of the losing side in an election to accept the outcome, honor the winner and work with the new government until the next round of voting.
Young people have terrible examples to guide them. Academic administrators systematically punish faculty who fail to sanitize syllabi and classroom dialog to the tyranny of political correctness and purge conservatives who challenge theology of identity politics.
Politicians like Sen. Charles Schumer, who obstructs Senate votes on nominations to staff the Trump administration, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who never admits value in anything the GOP proposes, refuse to collaborate on legislation and sulked through the recent State of the Union address.
For generations, universities have been run by pious ideologies and political parties led by vainglorious sore-losers. Nowadays, however, young people are quitting the faith for the same reasons so many rural and smaller city Americans rejected the establishment Republican Party of Jeb Bush during the primaries and Hillary Clinton in the general election to put Donald Trump in the White House. America has failed many of them, and the leadership of the major political parties is callous to their pain.
From the 1930s to 1960, most workers had less than a high school education, and many more were on farms, in factories, unionized and identified with the Democratic Party, which won most elections. Republicans represented the merchant class, financiers and industrialists, who were generally better educated and resisted New Deal redistributionist policies and encroachments on free markets.
Since then, freer trade, more open immigration, the digital revolution in production and communications, and the civil rights and women’s movements have greatly changed the economy and realigned political parties – omitting the genuine interests of many millennials and blue collar workers.
These days both political parties reflect the values of highly educated elites. Democrats champion the mindset of liberal academics, successful professionals on the two coasts who profit from globalization and the digital economy, and professional advocates of race and gender issues.
Republicans still hue to an agenda advocated by high-income, high wealth individuals who also have benefited grandly from changes in our economy. One need only point to their success cutting corporate taxes and failures on healthcare to see the ties that bind.
The typical 26-year old is not a Harvard or University of Michigan graduate with a promising career at a software startup, law firm or investment house, but rather a second-tier, private or public college graduate – or less – stuck in a dead end, low-paying job and burdened with huge student debt he may well take to the grave.
For all Mr. Trump’s talk, the trade deficit with China and overall is getting worse. The tax cuts are creating some new jobs but the broken conditions in the heartland fester like an open sore.
Millions of young adults bought into a capitalist promise – borrow thousands of dollars for college to get a good job – and got stiffed.
Ultimately, economic and political systems are graded by their participants by how well they address basic needs, and American democracy and capitalism are not doing well in the eyes of young people and the marginalized.
China is creating opportunities for its youth, and political and economic systems mirroring its characteristics are alarmingly attractive to America’s disaffected youth.
Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist. © 2018, The Washington Times, LLC.