By: Luke Montalbano
President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping meet during the G20 summit in Indonesia, 2022. Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail.
In the past two decades, political polarisation has expanded at unprecedented rates in both the realms of professional politics and personal interactions. It seems now more than ever the ability to have frank and open discussions has faded away. The clearest of examples is the relationship between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China from 2017 onward. Under Xi Jinping, China has become more assertive than under previous leaders in its approach to international diplomacy, especially when confronting liberal democracies across the globe. In the United States, a grassroots movement has grown to counter the expanding presence of China’s economy, which culminated in what many term the “America First” movement led predominantly by former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Instead of attempting to negotiate with China, the former president instead engaged in a trade war, which saw a net loss of $24.9 billion to the United States and further exacerbated the already strained US–China relationship. This relationship has not been improved under the Biden administration, which has upheld most of the policies implemented under the Trump administration.
I do not attempt to make a value judgement of the actions taken under the Trump administration but seek to examine the diplomatic fallout of the trade war. I would contend that the current relationship between the American and Chinese governments is beyond repair; the People’s Republic of China has become the dominant economic and political opponent to the United States of America and its foreign policy very deliberately acknowledges this fact. The Belt and Road Initiative is the culmination of China’s much improved soft power. This program has allowed China to build deep roots into a number of global south states on virtually every continent, allowing China to outpace American economic and political presence in the region. One would expect a coordinated response from the U.S. and its allies and, to an extent, this has occurred with the CPTPP. However, discussions between China and the United States have been highly limited under current President Joe Biden, preventing any real solution to the growing problem of economic imperialism.
In this article, I do not intend to argue for a solution to this economic and political conflict between the U.S. and China, I simply wish to point out that this situation has exemplified the death of pluralism. It seems that states that fall on opposite political ends are fully unable to come to the table. This, of course, is not the end all be all of international politics, as pluralism will always come and go, but now more than ever common ground must be found. Unfortunately, this culture of isolationism taken up by political opposites has seeped into our daily lives.
With the rise of social media, political polarisation and individual isolationism has grown steadily. It is indisputable that the echo chambers that Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, and other platforms create have impacted how many view those who disagree with them—whether a political opponent or a relative. It seems ever more difficult for two people to respectfully disagree. This inability to have open discussion and recognise that the conclusion may not always be a satisfying accord has been damaging to civil society, as respectful disagreement is a cornerstone of a healthy community. International relations serve as a macro example of the collapse of pluralism; our own backyard serves as the micro example of the collapse of pluralism.
People often forget that disagreement is a natural and important part of life and by surrounding yourself with as many people as possible with differing opinions you are more capable of fully understanding the world around you. I would ask you the reader to reflect on how you decide to engage in discussion with those around you. Do you immediately push away an individual because of a label or a difference in opinion? Or do you take up the chance to engage with them, understanding that a difference of opinions is the incentive to learn?
Pluralism is certainly fading out in professional politics and in our own personal lives, but there is little doubt that this is reversible. At a macro level, pluralism comes in waves. It evolves as international affairs evolve and I have great confidence that pluralism may soon return to the interactions of states across the globe. However, my confidence wanes when I look at our society today. It appears that our communities are on track to implode whenever an election cycle comes around, as they already do in many cases. It is not difficult to respect those who disagree, but to find this quality in an individual requires a great deal of searching.
Luke Montalbano is a political columnist for Voices of Gen Z and an incoming student at Dartmouth College (Class of 2027).