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Defeating China and Saving Democracy
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Defeating China and Saving Democracy

It’s going to be a busy year.

Rep. Mike Gallagher. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

Hello and Happy New Year! After a two-week hiatus, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things. So, let’s get to it.  

New Select Committee on China Is Booting Up 

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher is slated to chair a new House Select Committee on China and has already detailed his four priorities: 1) Restore supply chains and end critical economic dependencies on China; 2) strengthen the U.S. military; 3) end the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) theft of American personal data and intellectual property (IP); and 4) contrast the CCP’s techno-totalitarian state with the values of the free world.  

Gallagher says the new select committee will build on the work done previously by the House Republican China Task Force, but he’s also insisting that his committee will be a serious and bipartisan effort: “We want the Democrats to nominate serious, sober people to participate, because defending Americans from Chinese Communist Party aggression should not be a partisan thing.” 

Here’s what I’m thinking (HWIT): 

The select committee is sorely needed. The House and the Senate will occasionally create “select” or “special” committees to explore or investigate issues in a way that is outside of the capability or jurisdiction of the normal “standing” committees. Typically created by a resolution that explains the committee’s responsibilities, powers, and appointment procedures, select committees almost always have a “sunset” provision causing them to expire, but it is common for them to be renewed if more time is needed to complete the committee’s work. 

Confronting an increasingly powerful and belligerent Beijing cuts across so many existing committee jurisdictions, and it’s precisely the reason that this new select committee is needed. If done well, the select committee will assume a strategic role in trying to define and explain the challenge while working with other committees to develop tailored legislation aimed to improve the American position. While there are always “food fights” when you’ve got these many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, the China challenge is one of the few truly bipartisan concerns in Congress and there should be plenty of work (and credit) to go around. 

Rep. Gallagher is a good choice for chairman. This guy gets it. He’s been rock-solid on China from day one and, by my lights, shows the right amount of urgency, commitment, and optimism needed to make good things happen. He’s also proven: Gallagher was co-chair of the U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which produced more than 80 specific legislative proposals for improving the nation’s cybersecurity posture, more than half of which have been implemented or are nearing implementation. 

We need to get this right. Emerging technologies are a key variable in all four of the select committee’s priorities. One of the best ways members can help our nation is to explain how the lines between domestic and foreign tech policy are essentially non-existent, while the ties that bind them are growing only stronger. You want to restore supply chains and end dependencies? Well, that means building alternatives domestically and with reliable partners overseas, while also convincing allies to do the same, even in the face of higher costs or delayed benefits. Do you need to strengthen the U.S. military? Well, that must include a defense industrial base that can withstand Chinese espionage and innovation-killing acquisition and regulatory burdens. Do you hope to end the CCP’s theft of data and IP? Well, you better be prepared to remove threats like drone-maker DJI and TikTok and to review outbound American investments in China that almost always “leak” intellectual property and frequently benefit the Chinese military. Finally, if you really want to contrast Western values with those of the Chinese Communist Party, we shouldn’t abandon constitutional and free market principles to punish our tech industry with antitrust and other punitive actions that are poorly justified and seemingly motivated by political grievance rather than facts. I’m all ears if a lawmaker has a fair and constitutional way to do things better. But it will not serve us well to contrast ourselves with Xi Jinping if all we’re going to do is ape his strategy of hamstringing our crown jewels of innovation and economic strength every time a politician gets their feelings hurt. 

Majorities Say Social Media is ‘Mostly Good’ for Democracy, But Americans Disagree 

The Pew Research Center has a new report on global attitudes toward social media and its effects on democracy, with most respondents agreeing that platforms are a net good but have serious drawbacks. Pew conducted its research in 19 advanced economies—the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom—with a median of 57 percent saying “social media has been more of a good thing for democracy in their country.” 

Other positive findings from across all 19 countries include: 

  • 73 percent say “the internet and social media has made people informed about current events in their country”; and another 73 percent say the same thing about being “informed about current events in other countries.” 
  • Significant majorities say social media is an effective way to “raise public awareness about political or social issues” (77 percent), to “change people’s minds about political or social issues” (65 percent), to “get elected officials to pay attention to issues” (64 percent), and to “influence policy decisions” (61 percent).  

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Across all 19 countries, 84 percent of those polled said social media makes it “easy to manipulate with false information and rumors” and 65 percent said it causes their fellow citizens to be “divided in their political opinions.” Interestingly, Americans are the most negative when it comes to platforms’ impacts on democracy.  

A full 64 percent of Americans say social media is bad for democracy and nearly 80 percent believe it has “made people more divided in their political opinions.” Another 69 percent say the internet is making people “less civil.”  

Overall, young adults are more likely to see the positives of social media, with those who are ages 18-29 more likely than those 50 and older to say these platforms have been good for democracy—again, with Americans being the most cynical. Respondents in Malaysia, Israel, Poland, and Singapore—by contrast—are the most optimistic. 

HWIT: 

Context matters: Many believe democracy is already in trouble. Pew had another poll last year of 17 of these same countries asking respondents about their views on the overall health of their political system. A median of 56 percent said their system “needs major changes or needs to be completely reformed.” Nearly two-thirds or more expressed this view in the United States, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain, and South Korea. Even where this sentiment is lowest, large minorities want at least some change and less than 3 in 10 say their political system should not be changed at all. Even more bleakly, in eight of the 17 surveyed countries, half or more say their political system needs major changes, but they have “little or no confidence” that this change will occur.  So, what does this all mean? Well, at least in part, it means that quite apart from the internet and social media, people around the world increasingly feel underrepresented by, and dissatisfied with, their political leaders. While that general trend isn’t shocking, I was surprised to learn that 85 percent of Americans believe our systems need to be “completely reformed” or at least have “major changes.” No matter how you slice it, that’s not good. 

People have mixed feelings about the internet and social media because they’re a mixed bag of capabilities and outcomes. It’s undeniably true that internet technologies enable individuals and groups to build thick information bubbles that filter out alternative perspectives and important context. It’s also true that online “communities” are built not only by those with a common love for classic cars or sourdough bread; antisemites, political radicals, and people who like Creed are also logging on and linking up. But that’s not the whole story. Underrepresented and oppressed political minorities use internet technologies to connect, to grow, to plan, and to affect positive change. This is why authoritarian regimes from Beijing to Riyadh shut down the internet the moment their citizens start to raise a ruckus. The internet is powerful, and it is wielded by both benevolent and malevolent hands and the best way to maximize the good and to minimize the bad is by exercising our own agency. 

Sociologist Robert N. Bellah observed, “One of the keys to survival of free institutions is the relationship between private and public life, the way citizens do, or do not, participate in the public sphere.” More than any piece of legislation, more than any set of content moderation rules (or the lack thereof), governing our own behavior and the behavior of our elected officials on and offline is the best way of restoring confidence in our democracy. It’s a sad fact of our modern predicament that many of the loudest voices screaming about the death of democracy are the ones suffocating our experiment in ordered liberty beneath a blanket of outrage, half-truths, and partisan efforts to “own” the other team—often in a tweet or Facebook post. 

Look, I understand and agree that the internet and social media can often be awful and provoke the worst part of us; and, to my shame, I’ve certainly given in to this temptation. But that’s on me and no rule or regulation can fix that. And even if it could, I don’t want to live under a government that thinks it has the ability and the duty to go around “fixing” its citizens or blunting the sharp corners of the public square—and that includes constraining the speech of the platforms themselves. Anyone advocating for such a government isn’t defending democracy, they’re killing it. 


That’s it for this edition of The Current. Be sure to comment on this post and to share this newsletter with your family, friends, and followers. You can also follow me on Twitter (@KlonKitchen). Thanks for taking the time and I’ll see you next week! 

Klon Kitchen is a managing director at Beacon Global Strategies and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.