(Originally published here on June 7, 2022 in the South China Morning Post.)
American exceptionalism has been on full display in the past few weeks owing to an uptick in mass murders committed with assault weapons.
This national pastime – now arguably more ingrained in the country’s culture than baseball and July 4 barbecues – is so horrifically compelling not only for the way it tends to target schoolchildren and racial minorities, but also for the pathetic political battles that ensue, prolonging the spectacle and giving the country’s critics much to roll their eyes at.
It should be no surprise that the Chinese government has tapped this vein, given the condemnation it faces for any number of its hard-line domestic policies, including mass incarceration of Uygurs and other religious minorities in Xinjiang for vocational training or cultural genocide, depending on whose version you believe.
“The gunshots shattered the American dream that all men are endowed with the unalienable rights to life and liberty, and lead people to reflect on the US-style human rights,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing in April, in response to a reporter’s question about the spate of mass murders in the US.
“Do US-style human rights mean everyone has the right to pull out a gun and fire at others at will?” he asked. “Are arbitrary killings that plunge the people into horror and despair also part of the US-style human rights?”
Obviously, the answer is yes. If not, the US Congress would pass a law to curtail access to assault weapons.
Wang rattled off statistics about American bloodshed so detailed that we can only assume his ministry has an entire division devoted to it.
The Chinese government must know that whataboutism is a weak strategy, but when there’s so much evidence suggesting human rights abuses in Xinjiang that Chinese President Xi Jinping needs to tell United Nations human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet not to give “patronising lectures”, there are few other argumentative paths to take.
This approach also fails to acknowledge a key difference in this diplomatic stand-off: American gun violence reflects a weakness in the country’s political system that many within it are trying to fix, while repression of some minorities in China derives from top-down orders, which no one is permitted to question, as Xi clearly states.
But I digress, and this particular argument could go on forever. Let’s bring the focus back to gun violence in America because, while the problem might seem to be an entirely domestic issue, it has reached crisis proportions, which distracts the Biden administration from managing the many other crises affecting people worldwide.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, a record, marking a rise of 50 per cent from pre-industrial levels, a crisis that has implications far more grave than the misery Russia is inflicting in Europe.
But, as we’ve seen throughout the decades that scientists have been warning us about the burning of fossil fuels, US politicians are only too happy to be distracted by culture wars to avoid having to solve problems that will kill far more people than those who died at the hands of demented individuals with easy access to assault weapons.
And they’re at it again. Instead of agreeing that the time has come for some measure that will create a reasonable limitation to that access, the Republican Party’s right flank is trying to turn the angst of the bloodshed in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, into an argument for their most unpopular positions.
Representative Billy Long, who is running for a US Senate seat in a competitive primary in Missouri, said in a stunning feat of rhetorical gymnastics that America has too many mass murders because legal abortion has devalued life.
There are plenty more examples of this line of argument about how godlessness is the prime culprit now being deployed on all available channels by lawmakers, who will ensure that American exceptionalism remains intact.