The chaos of America is what makes it great

Political infighting within and between parties, a ballooning federal debt and a widening income gap; these are just some of the multitude of challenges that the US is dealing with now. However, commentator Jin Jian Guo says that even amid the chaos, the US environment that supports innovation and diverse values is what helps it thrive globally.
People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on 2 August 2023 in New York City, US. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on 2 August 2023 in New York City, US. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Although US society is in chaos, with its politics, economy and values in a mess, the US economy remains incredibly vibrant. The fact that such a chaotic society existing under a constitutional framework can have such a lively economy is peculiar and unlike any other country in the world.

America’s chaos

In terms of politics, the US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted by a band of eight hardline conservative Republicans alongside the Democrats, and it was only three weeks later that his replacement, Mike Johnson, was elected. 

The direct trigger for McCarthy’s removal from office was his concession to a rule change when he was narrowly elected speaker in January. The new rule allows any single member of Congress to bring a “motion to vacate”, which forces a vote on removing the speaker. This led to the eight Republicans and all Democrats voting to remove McCarthy as speaker and legislative activity in the House being suspended during the leadership vacuum.   

Newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson speaks in the House Chamber after his election at the US Capitol on 25 October 2023 in Washington, DC, US. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson speaks in the House Chamber after his election at the US Capitol on 25 October 2023 in Washington, DC, US. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Congressman Matt Gaetz moved to oust McCarthy for pushing through a temporary funding bill on 30 September that would keep federal agencies open until 17 November. The deal, made less than an hour before the midnight deadline, temporarily lifted the threat of a federal government shutdown. 

In May, McCarthy had also pushed for a deal with US President Joe Biden to avert a government default. Angered by McCarthy's repeated collaborations with Democrats, Gaetz and others accused him of failing to deliver on promises to cut federal spending.  

Gaetz’s coup — carried out in a fully compliant manner — was not only a challenge to the Republican Party but, more importantly, a challenge to the Biden administration.

In terms of the economy, the US autoworker strike that began on 15 September ended on 30 October after reaching separate deals with three automakers. According to the Associated Press, the United Auto Workers (UAW) accepted tentative agreements for around 25-33% wage increases over four and a half years.

The autoworkers’ demand for higher wages comes amid the backdrop of a widening income gap. From 2013 to 2022, profits skyrocketed by 92% at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. Yet, the average real hourly earnings for auto manufacturing workers fell by 19.3% since 2008.   

Supporters of Palestine hold a rally in New York's financial district as the fighting continues in Gaza on 26 October 2023 in New York City, US. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Supporters of Palestine hold a rally in New York's financial district as the fighting continues in Gaza on 26 October 2023 in New York City, US. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

American values are a mess as well. It is appalling that Hamas’s brutal killing of women, children and the elderly is supported by students from Ivy League schools such as Harvard University and Columbia University, as well as the University of Washington. On 7 October, a group of 34 Harvard student organisations released a statement holding Israel entirely responsible for the whole conflict. University of Washington students also held demonstrations in support of Hamas on 12 October. A Gallup poll found that 54% of Americans support Israel while 31% support Palestinians. 

Counterbalances and equalisers

In terms of politics, the infighting within the Republican Party and between the two political parties in the US can be seen as a competition between left and right political leanings, which in turn represent different interest groups. These interests cannot be ignored even if they represent that of only a handful of people.

Competition among different interests restricts the growth and strength of a single force, inevitably leading to political infighting. Gaetz’s coup — carried out in a fully compliant manner — was not only a challenge to the Republican Party but, more importantly, a challenge to the Biden administration. Biden’s untethered expansion of government spending has pushed US federal debt to unsustainable levels.

If it does not improve, there would naturally be new forces to replace it. This is a source of energy for American society. 

US Representative Matt Gaetz is trailed by reporters after a House Republican conference meeting, where they discussed an attempt by Gaetz to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, at the US Capitol in Washington, US, 3 October 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
US Representative Matt Gaetz is trailed by reporters after a House Republican conference meeting, where they discussed an attempt by Gaetz to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, at the US Capitol in Washington, US, 3 October 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The US national debt has hit a whopping US$33 trillion. As of August 2023, the interest bill on US government debt totalled US$808 billion, accounting for 15% of total federal spending. Fitch Ratings noted that US national debt accounts for 113% of GDP and forecasts the US budget deficit to rise from 3.7% of GDP in 2022 to 6.3% in 2023. 

The conservative Republicans’ belief in limited government is a constraint on the Biden administration, and the revolt of the far-right Gaetz against the Republican Party will prompt the latter to take a tougher stance on restraining government spending. A few days of a federal government shutdown will not affect the normal operations of American society. 

Daniel Ziblatt, professor of government at Harvard University and co-author of Tyranny of the Minority, said that Gaetz’s rebellion reflected the enormous power that a small group of representatives camped on their party’s ideological fringe can wield over an entire institution, and demonstrated how difficult it will be for anyone to corral the House. There are numerous reasons why the US Congress has reached this point — the Republican Party is held captive by its loudest and most radical members.

US Representative Kevin McCarthy answers questions at the Capitol after being ousted as House Speaker, 3 October 2023 in Washington, DC, US. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
US Representative Kevin McCarthy answers questions at the Capitol after being ousted as House Speaker, 3 October 2023 in Washington, DC, US. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Detractors of McCarthy feel that he is indecisive and ineffectual, thus a weak and incapable leader. He did not propose a vision to actualise Republican goals. Gaetz’s rebellion would spur the Republican Party to consider how to manage its disorder. If it does not improve, there would naturally be new forces to replace it. This is a source of energy for American society. 

In truth, McCarthy has been inconsistent on the Trump issue, which is the key reason why the Democrats agreed to oust McCarthy as speaker. Indeed, the chaotic American politics under the rule of law give rise to new vitality.  

The chaos that is American politics and its economy is set against the backdrop of diverse sets of values, and the clash between the various values has become a mark of a civilised society. 

Innovation in diversity

In terms of the economy, US workers’ strikes are a societal curb to income polarization. According to “Bidenomics”, the autoworkers’ demand for higher wages is entirely in line with its theory. Biden has taken “Bidenomics” to the extreme, but the American people have not acknowledged it. A CNN poll showed that 58% of American people felt that Biden’s policies have worsened the economy. 

If the American public sang praises for Biden, his administration would be even bolder in expanding his economic policies without restraint. “Bidenomics” is a revolt against the “Reaganomics” that benefited the wealthy, arguing that the growing income gap must benefit the middle class. But an overcorrection would portend another wave of correction. 

Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, stated, “Billionaires in my opinion, don’t have a right to exist”. Such an extreme view is a form of resistance against inequality, but ideas with socialist overtones will never find their way into the souls of American entrepreneurs. If Americans believed in socialism, the US would not have become what it is today.

US President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on 30 October 2023. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
US President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on 30 October 2023. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

The chaos that is American politics and its economy is set against the backdrop of diverse sets of values, and the clash between the various values has become a mark of a civilised society. 

In contrast, the more than 2,000 years of despotic rule in China has shackled public thought, making the majority of the public mental slaves that cannot measure up intellectually. 

On the surface, the imperial rule since the Han dynasty appeared to revere Confucianism, making it mainstream ideology. But in actuality, the brutal law of the Legalists was used to enslave the people, and ideological dominance was developed to the extreme. Consequently, the Chinese people were trapped intellectually, leading to a long-term stagnation of Chinese society. Despotism strangles freedom, while slaves lack the ability to innovate.      

... a chaotic US does not equate to a declining US. 

The US’s key weapon

Looking at the chaotic US, its economy alone stands out among the major global economies. During the ASEAN summit, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, stated that among the major countries and regions, “only the US has fully recovered”. In the second quarter of 2023, US GDP growth was at 2.1%, while inflation rate fell to 3.7% with employment at an adequate state. 

These are all signs of an active US economy. American politics, economics and the cultural environment have given rise to active productivity and innovation. A society that constantly innovates is one that will never decline. History has shown that an “ultrastable” society is one that is stagnant and always guarding against decline. Indeed, a chaotic US does not equate to a declining US. 

A woman and her child participate in a Halloween celebration at the White House in Washington, DC, on 30 October 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
A woman and her child participate in a Halloween celebration at the White House in Washington, DC, on 30 October 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

In the past, politicians have made a strategic error by betting against the US. Robert Kagan, senior fellow at Brookings, published a book titled The Ghost at the Feast in 2023 in which he described the miscalculations that dictators in Berlin and Tokyo made about the US. Hitler said, “What is America but beauty queens, millionaires, stupid records and Hollywood?” 

Meanwhile, the Japanese naval strategist Marshal Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku thought that the American people were “self-indulgent cowards”. 

Dictators were unable to imagine what the US would become in 1942 by observing them in 1939; the productivity stemming from American society was a key weapon to secure a victory in the war against fascism. 

What history has proven does not speak for the present, but at the very least, there is currently no sign that the US is in a decline. Based on the US’s share of global GDP, the US is relatively declining. But using this metric to judge the US in this age of globalisation is outdated. A country’s total production is nothing compared with its number of innovations and how it holds the high ground on innovativeness, and the US reigns supreme on that front. Indeed, an economic revolution is taking place because of US generative artificial intelligence, while the investments in large tech firms are booming.

Related: Chinese politics is undergoing great change | A divided America is losing its footing in the Cold War with China | Why the Americans know China better than the Chinese know the US