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Behind the Political Chaos: The Decline of American Values


A top Europe expert at a state security-linked think tank argues that the reputation and credibility of the United States have been eroded by domestic disfunction and polarization.

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On January 6, the U.S. Congress was occupied and violent clashes between police and demonstrators caused multiple deaths and injuries, highlighting the tragedy of democracy and human rights in the United States.


It is worth pointing out that the fall of Capitol Hill in the United States is not entirely unexpected. Rather, it is the inevitable result of the deteriorating development of the political ecology of the United States in the past few decades, especially in recent years. American values are already mired in trouble, and they are increasingly being questioned not only globally but even in other Western countries.


After World War II, the United States advocated and vigorously promoted a series of so-called universal values, including democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values were regarded as the cornerstones of the global order dominated by the United States and the West. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War marked a point at which the value system advertised by the United States reached its highest global momentum and even the so-called end of history emerged. However, history does not evolve in accordance with American visions and plans. Rather, it is only an illusion that all countries in the world embrace American values. The concepts of democracy, freedom, and human rights are not problematic. The issue, however, is who ought to interpret them and who ought to judge them. With its strong position, the United States has monopolized the interpretation of these concepts for a long time and it has been difficult for the developing countries to have a voice in the discussion.

二战后,美国倡导并极力推广一系列所谓的普世价值观,包括民主、自由、人权等,这被视为美西方主导的全球秩序的基石。 苏联解体和冷战的结束标志着美国标榜的价值体系在全球的声势达到最高点,甚至出现了所谓的历史终结论。 但是历史并未按照美国的设想和规划演进,全球各国均拥抱美国的价值观终归只是一种幻想。民主、自由、人权等概念本身并无问题,问题是由谁来解释,由谁来评判。 美国凭借其强势地位,长期垄断这些概念的解释权,广大发展中国家却难以发出自己的声音。

However, in recent years, this situation has been changing. On the one hand, the values advocated by the United States have been unable to guarantee good economic and social effects, and its role model and influence in the world have fallen sharply. The polarization between the rich and the poor, and the consolidation of classes in the United States have become more pronounced. The people are not optimistic about their futures. Polls show that most Americans have lost trust in their own political elites and believe that they do not represent the interests of the people. In the United States, dissatisfaction with democracy has become a common phenomenon, and the rate of dissatisfaction with democracy exceeds the rate of satisfaction. This is also the main reason why American populism prevails. Since the beginning of last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been raging unabated. The United States, which claims to attach the most importance to democracy and human rights, has faced the gravest outbreak. The cumulative number of confirmed cases in the United States exceeds 20 million, and the death toll is close to 400,000. These numbers are still increasing rapidly.

但近年来,这一状况正在改变。 一方面,美国鼓吹的价值观并不能保证产生好的经济和社会效果,其在全球的榜样力和影响力大幅下降。 美国贫富分化、阶层固化现象越发严重,民众对未来生活并不乐观。 民调显示,多数美国人对本国政治精英失去信任,认为他们没有代表人民利益;在美国,对民主的不满成为普遍现象,民众对民主的不满意率超过满意率。 这也是美国民粹主义大行其道的主要原因。 去年年初以来,新冠肺炎疫情肆虐,号称最民主、最重视人权的美国,疫情却最为严峻——美国累计确诊病例超过2000万,死亡人数接近40万,而且还在快速增加。

On the other hand, what the United States has done fully demonstrates the double standards and hypocrisy of its values, which further weakens the global appeal of its value system. Democracy and human rights belong to the United States alone, and democracy and human rights are only afforded to some in the United States. The United States has wantonly interfered in the internal affairs and has subverted the regimes of other countries. Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and many others, have suffered painful and profound experiences. In the United States, African-Americans have suffered discrimination for a long time, giving way to the Black Lives Matter movement. The United States has turned a blind eye to its own problems and still acts as the global “mentor” of democracy and human rights. Calling Hong Kong rioters “heroes of democracy” does not prevent them from calling Trump supporters, who seized the Capitol, rioters. The populism of the U.S. economy is prevalent, and the government unscrupulously promotes unilateralist protection policies, erects barriers to free trade, and builds walls against foreign investment, clearly violating the values of free trade and a free market economy for which it advocates. The “double standards” of the United States are so obvious, so common, and so hypocritical that it is becoming increasingly unable to justify its actions, unable to win the trust of the world, and increasingly unable to win the trust of its people.

另一方面,美国所作所为充分展现了其价值观的双重标准和虚伪性,进一步弱化了其价值体系的全球感召力。 民主与人权只是美国本国、并且只是本国部分人的民主与人权。 美国肆意干涉他国内政、颠覆他国政权,阿富汗、利比亚、叙利亚等诸多国家的遭遇惨痛而深刻。 在美国,非洲裔群体长期遭受歧视,导致“黑人的命也是命”运动风起云涌。尽管自身问题丛生,美国却视而不见,仍在全球充当民主与人权的“教师爷”。 称香港暴徒为“民主英雄”,却并不妨碍其称攻陷国会山的特朗普支持者为暴徒。 美国经济民粹主义盛行,政府毫无顾忌地推进单边主义保护政策,为自由贸易设障,对外来投资筑墙,显然是违反了其自身倡导的自由贸易及自由市场经济价值观。 美国的“双标”是如此明显、如此普遍、如此虚伪,导致其越来越无法自圆其说、无法取信世人,甚至也越来越无法取信本国民众。

For a long time, the so-called universal value system advocated by the United States was, to a large extent, only a tool for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and for safeguarding its own monopolistic interests. It is precisely because of this that it has encountered increasing resistance on a global scale. For instance, the United Nations Human Rights Council used to be one of the main tools used by the United States to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. However, as the voices and diversified values of developing countries are now gaining greater recognition, the United States discovered that it was unable to dominate this organization, so it announced its withdrawal in June 2018.

长期以来,美国鼓吹的所谓普世价值体系很大程度上只是其干涉他国内政、维护自身垄断利益的工具,也正因如此而在全球范围内遭到越来越大的抵制。 比如,联合国人权理事会过去曾是美国干涉他国内政的主要工具之一,但现在发展中国家发出的声音和多元化的价值理念正得到越来越多的认可,美国发现无力主导这一机构后,竟于2018年6月宣布退出该组织。

On June 22 of this past year, the UNHRC once again passed the resolution entitled Promoting Mutually Beneficial Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights that China had submitted. The resolution advocates for adherence to multilateralism, calls for the establishment of a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and mutually beneficial cooperation. It will build a community with a shared future for mankind, emphasizing that all countries should conduct sincere dialog and cooperation in the field of human rights, share good practices and experiences in the promotion and protection of human rights, and strengthen human rights technical assistance and capacity building so as to achieve mutually beneficial cooperation. On October 29 of last year, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly responsible for social, humanitarian, and cultural affairs reported to member states on its routine work and deliberated on human rights issues. At the meeting, 23 countries, led by the United States, “launched an attack” (“发难”) against China on the Xinjiang issue, though they were criticized by 54 countries. In fact, most Asian and African countries have long been extremely dissatisfied with the United States’ abuse of democracy and human rights and other value issues to interfere in their internal affairs. The values advocated for by the United States can no longer dominate the world.

去年6月22日,联合国人权理事会再次通过中国提交的“在人权领域促进合作共赢”决议。 决议倡导坚持多边主义,呼吁构建相互尊重、公平正义、合作共赢的新型国际关系,构建人类命运共同体,强调各国应在人权领域开展真诚对话与合作,分享促进和保护人权的良好做法和经验,加强人权技术援助和能力建设,实现合作共赢。 去年10月29日,联合国大会负责社会、人道主义和文化事务的第三委员会向会员国汇报例行工作并审议人权问题,会上,以美国为首的23国就新疆问题向中国“发难”,但却遭到54个国家的批驳。 实际上,大多数亚洲和非洲国家对美国滥用民主、人权等价值观议题干涉其内政早已极为不满。 美国鼓吹的价值观已经无法主导世界。

In essence, the reason why American values have been able to dominate the world for a long time is not because of their so-called universality but rather because of the strength of the United States, especially its economic and technological prowess. However, in the past decade or so, with the large-scale financial crisis and sovereign debt crisis, the American economic myth has been broken, and its S&T strength has not allowed it to monopolize the world. In addition, the United States also believes that it has encountered real challenges, and the nationwide suppression of the Chinese private enterprise Huawei highlights this anxiety.

本质上,美式价值观过去之所以能长期占据全球主导地位,并不在于其本身的所谓普世性,而在于美国自身的实力特别是经济和科技力量的强大。 但近十余年来,随着大规模的金融危机和主权债务危机,美国的经济神话被打破,其科技实力也无法做到垄断世界。 并且美国也自认为遭遇了真正的挑战,以举国之力打压中国民营企业华为就凸显了这一焦虑心理。

American values are declining. This reflects the decline in the overall strength of the United States. Hard indicators such as GDP, manufacturing capacity, and S&T strength can largely explain this problem. The decline of its soft power, however, especially the influence of its values, will be a fundamental change.


As everyone has recognized, the political chaos in the United States is merely a symptom of America’s chronic illness, not the cause. The social and political problems of the United States are deeply entrenched, and the country may no longer be able to lead the West in the future, let alone dominate the world. The “American Era” (“美好时代”) in which the United States dominated the world is becoming a thing of the past. This is why Western countries were both shocked and frightened by the fall of the Capitol.

正如各方所公认,美国政治乱象只是美国痼疾的症状,而非病因,美国的社会、政治问题已经根深蒂固,未来可能无法领导西方,更不用说主导世界。 美国主导世界的“美好时代”正成为过去,这也是西方国家对美国国会山陷落事件,既震撼又惊惧的原因所在。

The political chaos in the United States is largely self-sufficient and a result of the paranoid and instrumental development of its values. Now, it is time for the United States to reflect. American values are by no means a panacea, nor are they superior. With more introspection and less prejudice and with more tolerance and less rejection, the United States may heal, and the world will be better.

美国的政治乱象,在很大程度上是自食其果,是其价值观偏执化和工具化发展的结果。 现在,是美国该反省的时候了,美式价值观绝非灵丹妙药,也并不高人一等。 多一点自省,少一点偏见;多一些包容,少一些排斥,自己好,世界也会更好。

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Cite This Page

张健 (Zhang Jian). "Behind the Political Chaos: The Decline of American Values [政治乱象的背后:美式价值观的衰落]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Guangming Daily [光明日报], January 12, 2021

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