China and the American Dream

PARIS – China may be just a few years away from becoming the world’s leading economic power, and America’s strategic centrality may be on the wane (certainly, no one speaks of the United States today as the world’s “hyperpower”). But America still makes people dream, and its emotional hold on the world remains unique.

In this sense, last week brought two victories: not just Barack Obama’s over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the presidential election, but also the victory of America’s democratic system over China’s one-party authoritarianism. In a few sentences of his victory speech – the space of a magic moment – Obama celebrated “the mystery of democracy” in a very concrete, but also nearly religious manner.

Obama found the right words with which to pay tribute to the multitude of anonymous citizens going door to door to convince their fellow Americans to vote for their preferred candidates. He was describing democracy at its best, its most noble, as it should be, but not always is: freely mobilized men and women able and willing to change the course of their destiny.

At this moment, however brief, America’s soft power defeated by a knockout that of China, which less than one day later solemnly – and in the most opaque manner – opened the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Millions of people around the world would rather experience for themselves an election night like America’s than become a part of China’s long-term plans.