Thoughts on America
By Jeffrey Sheehan
I have always felt a kinship with China. I was born just before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, so I have lived my life at the same age as the PRC. I love China and the Chinese; I have visited China more than 100 times although I have been resoundingly defeated by the Chinese language, despite endless efforts to learn it. Every time I visit China and the more I learn about China, the more I realize how superficial my understanding is and will always be. But as we have learned from Google, “Be together, not the same.”
I have heard from many Chinese friends with questions and concerns about the presidential election that took place in the United States on November 8th. In the spirit of friendship, I decided to write this open WeChat letter to my friends, and they are welcome to forward it if they think that it may help to spread understanding and dispel concerns.
There is a form of discussion known as the “dialectic.” It has been used by philosophers and politicians from Aristotle to Mao Zedong. In the dialectic, there is a “thesis”, which is challenged by an “antithesis.” The result of the ensuing discussion is a “synthesis”, which is not the same as the thesis or the antithesis. Neither the thesis nor the antithesis is “right” or “wrong”. It is simply a matter of finding a new path that allows the polity to move forward.
This is what is happening in the United States right now. In some societies this process requires a revolution; in the United States, our political system assures that the process is peaceful. It is loud, and many people are angry, but this, too, is allowed within the system. The first amendment to our constitution guarantees this right. When people protest, we do not feel threatened. Our government does not feel threatened. It is a normal component of the dialectic that goes on all the time.
Mr. Trump is a thoroughly reprehensible person. He has neither morals, nor ethics nor compassion. I did not vote for him. A great majority of Americans did not vote for him. Only 26% of the population eligible to vote actually cast ballots for him. Do not think that he speaks for all of us. But he does represent an “antithesis” to how our society is organized and governed. His election means that a dialectic will ensue, in which he and his philosophy will be modified before there is a “synthesis”. Jimmy Carter, who was President of the United States from 1977 to 1981, was famously quoted as saying that his greatest frustration consisted in his inability to bring about change in the way the country was run. He said he spent 3% of his time coming up with new ideas and 97% of his time trying to convince other people to implement them. Mr. Trump will experience the same frustration.
But things will – and should – change. Bernie Sanders, a Senator from the State of Vermont who ran for President this year but who lost in the primaries to Mrs. Clinton, expressed many of the same ideas that Mr. Trump expressed. Of course, Senator Sanders is a decent person with humane values, and the way he expressed these ideas was quite different from Mr. Trump. But these two men, on diametrically opposite sides of the political spectrum, are arguing for many of the same changes in our society. These changes will come about – imperfectly, of course – but our society will emerge from this trauma as a stronger and better country. Probably not in the next four years, but eventually.
I am not going to support Mr. Trump. I will fight him and oppose him and do everything I can to make sure that nobody like him is ever elected again. And I hope that my children, and all the other young people who have been so disillusioned by this election, will become energized and take active roles in opposing this monster and returning America to a leader with good values.
In the meantime, I say to my friends in China, please do not be afraid of the United States. Your children are still welcome in our schools and universities, which will remain rock-strong communities characterized by tolerance, empathy and compassion. You are still welcome to do business in the United States. Mr. Trump has exaggerated fears of Latin Americans who enter the USA illegally. He also has a ridiculous ignorance of Islam which results in absurd policy proposals. But he has no fears about the Chinese people. He is mistakenly convinced that China is “stealing” jobs from Americans and that the Chinese government is manipulating its currency. But it is important to separate the hostilities that he expresses towards government policies from the warm welcome he offers to Chinese people. I would have to assume that he has many Chinese who have purchased real estate from him. Nobody has ever accused the Chinese of sneaking across the borders or of being terrorists.
I know that the headlines are lurid, but remember that the media need to sell content, and the more sensational the news, the more money they make. It is not all true, and what is true is often exaggerated. The United States is undergoing a revolution, but it should be something to watch with interest in person rather than to observe in fear from a remote location. Please come visit, and bring your children. Americans are friendly people and they warmly welcome you.
 Jeffrey Sheehan是賓夕法尼亞大學沃頓商學院前副院長。本文寫于2016年11月13日，新東方教育集團董事長俞敏洪先生特向本刊推薦。