Richard Bush on Xi vs Trump, or, who is the real Maoist?

Richard Bush from Brookings has come up with the best point-by-point comparison of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, the two most important global political figures of the present moment, that I have yet seen.

Some of these points may seem obvious by now, but there is always value in a concise and clear summary, and I thought this was exceptionally concise and clear. I also largely agree with it. I have lightly edited the bullet points below for clarity:

The similarities:

  • Ambition. They each have grand and similar ambitions for their countries: the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and making America great again.
  • Self-regard. They each have a high estimation of their own ability to lead their countries and confidence that they can overcome all obstacles. Each believes he is above the law and each in his own way. Xi has worked to ensure that the courts are subordinate to the Communist Party and to create extra-judicial mechanisms. Trump wants a law-enforcement system that is loyal to him.
  • Nationalism. Each is tapping into nationalist sentiment. Xi plays on the public’s desire to restore China to a global leadership role. Trump plays on the fears of white people about non-whites, both immigrants and native-born.

The differences:

  • Institutions. Xi basically accepts China’s political institutions. He believes they work and that they can be improved. Much of what he has done is to restore the Party’s leadership role. He is confident about his ability to work within China’s institutional structure. In this regard, he is very much like Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi, but like Liu, he wants the CCP to penetrate most sectors of Chinese society. Donald Trump rejects the role of institutions and the limits they place on himself. He regularly criticizes America’s governing institutions and works to undermine them. In this sense, he is something of a Maoist.
  • Program. Xi Jinping has a much more systematic vision of what he wishes to accomplish and how to get there. Trump thinks in terms of slogans and does not appreciate the contradictions among his various goals. Each leader appears to be a populist but Xi is a genuine populist and Trump is a sham populist.
  • Discipline. Xi Jinping is very disciplined in his leadership style. Trump thrives on chaos, which he does everything to create, and he cares very much about his image and whether others respect him.

The whole speech on US-China relations from which this is drawn is very much worth reading.

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