US making it hard to admire democracy
Published: Jan 20, 2021 09:56 PM

Weak democracy Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

My aunt Vincenzina was 101 when she died. When I was a boy growing up in Yonkers, New York, I was her favorite little one in our classic Italian American immigrant family. 

As a little girl in the early 1900s, she was a passenger on a steam ship for the long journey from Italy to have a dream come true: the dream of freedom and democracy, the dream of America. Imagine how many millions of exhausted immigrants after weeks of discomfort on the high seas across the vast Atlantic Ocean suddenly felt the elation, the joy, the rising of their spirits upon entering New York harbor and the sight of the magnificent Statue of Liberty. America! Beautiful America!

More than a century later, I will reveal an amazing story to you. The story of my son Vincent. His name in Italian is Vincenzo and I named him after our dear Aunt Vincenzina and all the love she gave me as a little boy growing up in Yonkers. 

In turn, I have since come to China 21 years ago and married into a Chinese family here in Northeast China's Shenyang. 

Believe it or not, our son is the very first child in over a century of the entire Italian immigrant Cavolo family to be born outside of the US; since those days of beautiful America.

The days of our beautiful America are gone. It is clear. It is sad, a travesty to everything America meant, a travesty to genuine freedom, a travesty to democracy. 

Thankfully, the original dream and vision of America still lives in the hearts and minds of many and let's not forget the simple reality it was based upon, to be free from the tyranny of a corrupt, unfair British government. 

If we take a moment to understand the true meaning of democracy and freedom, we can notice why more and more foreigners living in China are openly stating they have more true freedom in today's China than they do in today's US or European countries. I have heard these words from countless foreigners living here with their families, "We have more freedom here than we would back there in our home country." 

And so we must ask, "Why?" What happened to democracy and freedom in the US? On the surface, the answer seems incredibly complex, with pieces to the puzzle scattered across political divisions the worst we have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. The country is more divided and corrupt today than we have ever seen it. 

But I am here to remind you the answer is far simpler. The abandonment of your freedom, the abandonment of democracy whose noble intent was fairness, equality and representation for every person in the society was not rooted in left or right politics. It was not rooted in race wars nor religious divisions. All of those concerns are real but they are just surface noise underneath the ocean of truth where the US - the beautiful, worthy American experiment we have all admired - was simply hijacked by the wealthy. 

The decline of the US is the decline of its government and economic system. No more, and no less. It is no more than a case of greed, the formation of an oligarchy by the wealthy and powerful who somehow decided about 30 years ago that the greed of unbridled capitalism without the responsibility to the society in which we all live together was somehow OK. 

The politicians and bankers, those in charge of the big corporations and institutions, and regulators were corrupted in their lust for money and power, and steadily lost interest in their responsibility to the society as well as economic system within which they became wealthier and wealthier. 

The screams and protests grew louder. I first noticed them as a young man chatting with my dad in the mid 1990s. The country was changing, becoming more and more unfair. And if your wages are flat for 20 years, your freedom is certainly to become reduced. The powerful leaders in the corridors of Washington DC and the boardrooms of corporations knew it was happening. They were the ones causing it, themselves growing fatter and richer by the day. The democracy that so preciously allowed people to complain louder and louder was to no avail; the fake neoliberal democratic freedom of speech did nothing and changed nothing. 

As these decades wore on, the situation became worse and worse, the bright light of democracy and freedom growing dimmer and dimmer. 

After 21 years living here in China, I can tell you that Chinese democratic ideas are terrific. And when the government puts out policy surveys to find out what the people's interests, opinions, and needs are, they are being very democratic in doing so by taking care of the Chinese people. 

The Chinese government is surely not a two party democracy and yet, we can see that China is now the largest, safe, stable, and successful society and country on the planet. And that is because the central government system has done its job well. If the government, any government, including any democratic system of government, becomes hijacked by corruption and greed, the people suffer. That is what we have sadly been witnessing these past 20 years in the US.  

There are over 2,000 definitions of democracy, yet at its core the meaning is "rule by the people." But if I live within a pure democratic government within which I pay myself $50 million or even become worth billions while still paying my employees only minimum wage, that surely is unfair. 

By implication of this, I have created a society for all of those employees with far less democracy and freedom than I have for myself while I watch from offshore aboard my superyacht sipping expensive champagne. Government, whether central, parliamentary or democratic by structure, has a responsibility to every citizen of its country. 

And that is the failure we find at the root of the continuing decline of the US and the challenge it poses to the rest of the world.

The author is CEO of M Communications Group and a senior fellow of the Center for China & Globalization. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn