A friend asked me why Americans aren’t out protesting Trump in numbers closer to those in Hong Kong, where at one point one-quarter of its citizens were protesting China’s efforts to impose total control. The answer isn't so clearcut, and certainly won't fit into a text message...
In the early days of 2017, of course, millions did turn out across America, though nowhere near on the scale of Hong Kong.
Here are a few thoughts of my own, bearing in mind that I long ago abandoned my doctoral studies in political science:
Whereas Americans still have a chance to effect “regime change” at the ballot box, Hong Kong no longer has any fallback. Despite the 1984 Joint Declaration with the United Kingdom, which transferred Hong Kong back to China, London has little leverage to hold Beijing to its commitments — specifically, maintaining the enclave’s special status for 50 years, until 2047. Especially now, with the Western alliance in disarray and the UK going through its own rough departure from the European Union. So Hong Kong’s situation is both more desperate and more hopeless than many Americans would see for the United States.
If we do someday reach a point where Americans no longer have procedural recourse and effective constitutional guarantees, then we may also launch a desperate mass mobilization — which would most probably be too late.
Because Hong Kong’s economic magic depends so much on maintaining the confidence of major financial powers like Europe and the United States, these protesters may actually be able to compel Chinese concessions. Trump’s spiraling trade war and currency competition with the People’s Republic, and his abandonment of human rights as a pillar of U.S. policy, mean Hongkongers can and need to exact a financial toll in order to have an impact.
If Americans launched strikes and blockades, there would be some impact, but there would be no greater foreign powers ready to weigh in or take over our global role. Even without widespread social action, this American decline is accelerating almost as fast as the depletion of Arctic summer ice.
Nevertheless, the “resistance” and related movements are pushing hard to replicate what’s going on in Hong Kong. Yet the percentage of people coming out to protest remains relatively minor. Most Americans oppose Trump, but they aren’t ready to turn out in force.
Unlike Americans, people in Hong Kong can see exactly what kind of dystopia their current rulers would impose upon them. It’s called mainland China: No due process, no cultural pluralism, no free markets or freedom of speech, blocking of the internet and social media, total surveillance, forced sterilization, concentration camps for ethnic and religious minorities. For most Americans, the potential outcomes of Trump 2.0 remain at worst hypothetical.
Finally, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 notwithstanding, the United States hasn’t really been invaded for two centuries. So there’s definite complacency that “it” can’t happen here. And for all the fear and revulsion from Trump’s opponents, and Russia’s ongoing “active measures”, we still see his administration as homegrown, and something that will run its course — whether or not that’s accurate.
This thinking may be wrong, but it’s hard to stir most people enough to march through downtown. And yes, there’s plenty of laziness as well. But there’s also a sense that we can survive this, that I’m still doing better than my neighbor, that they’re only rounding up “illegals”, that the government is so remote from my existence that there’s nothing I can do anyway, that — even if they do start rounding up people just like me — somehow I’ll be taken care of.
Perhaps this last consideration is analogous to the belief of plumbers and Walmart workers and unemployed miners, that somehow we too can be rich someday — and therefore we need to worry about estate taxes and capital gains tax more than who’s being shot by police or being separated from their parents.
Perhaps it’s the difference, not between the haves and the have-nots, but between the want-to-saves and the don’t-want-to-risks. Why risk my friends or my job or my freedom, if I think I can come out on top of the slowly sinking ship?
Ultimately, there is no good reason why more Americans aren’t out marching against racism and isolationism and a dozen other issues — none of which need include a call for impeaching the President. But somehow this is our reality.