In the waiting room of a doctor’s office today I started reading a recent issue of Newsweek, and quickly remembered why I never read Newsweek. An article about a Chinese official who was fired for being unhelpful to victims of an earthquake in his district ended with the following paragraph:

“He wasn’t the only grassroots cadre punished for responding poorly. By June, 15 Sichuan officials had been fired and 13 others disciplined for “doing nothing” (another 50 who’d performed well were promoted). The swift punishments were a reminder of the Communist Party’s keen survival instincts – and of why it has managed to cling to power in China for nearly six decades.

Somehow I suspect that the reporter, Melinda Liu, did not originally end on this note, but rather that Newsweek’s editors realized that readers might somehow get confused by the facts into thinking the Chinese government was actually doing its job, in a way that was responsive to and respectful of its citizens.

Therefore they needed to end the article with a paragraph to remind otherwise impressionable readers that these Chinese are fiendish, dasterdly enemies, inhuman monsters who are only pretending to run a competent government.

Think for a moment how clever this is. Anything the Chinese government might do that is responsible, compassionate, helpful to or respectful of its own people can be used as a weapon of propaganda against it, a way of implying that this is merely a rogue government full of cackling fiends who are most likely rubbing their evil hands together in glee at how they’ve fooled everyone once again by actually being, um, er, competent.

Contrast this with us – the good guys, the actual representative democracy on the block. As our outgoing administration has reminded us, the proper way to show a people that they are free, that this is indeed their country, is by responding to natural disaster with utter incompetence and disdain, by appointing useless political hacks to key high level positions, by letting months go by without responding to disaster in a way that might indicate that your own citizens are entitled to respect, or even to basic services.

I’m not asking all that much here. When it comes to helping our own people, couldn’t we at least do as well as the bad guys?

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