I’m bubbling over with holly jolly generosity this week, so let me take a moment to celebrate something about Donald Trump. So far, the incoming president has done at least one thing that isn’t total trash: taking a call from the Taiwanese president, a move that got the Chinese government feeling a type of way. A Chinese newspaper called Trump “ignorant as a child in terms of foreign policy,” and back stateside the move was seen by Trump’s opponents as a dumb blunder, the sort of rookie mistake everyone expected from a man uniquely unqualified for the position. Everyone who’s anyone in the geopolitics world knows that for decades we’ve observed a strict “new phone who dis” policy when Taiwanese leaders call.
The whole episode exposes how truly farcical and absurd geopolitics can be. Since President Carter, Washington has officially observed Beijing’s One China policy, which dictates that we can’t take phone calls, slide into their DMs or otherwise communicate officially with Taiwan. Now, we can sell Taiwan weapons, which I guess are transacted via silent telepathy, and we’ve done it over the decades to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars. In fact, it’s literally legislated that we arm Taiwan for a potential war with mainland China. But we can’t talk on the phone.
It’s yet another of the known secrets in geopolitics that diplomatic decorum dictates everyone stay silent on, despite everyone knowing what the deal is. I certainly don’t ascribe any particular wisdom to Trump’s disruption of decades-long protocol, but I do know that many of the globe’s worst crimes are conducted under the cover of everyone knowing something and no one speaking it aloud. Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which everyone knows is massive, is literally forbidden to be named by the diplomatic community. America’s drone wars were the world’s worst-kept secret for years, with President Obama unable to acknowledge what everyone knew. The president could order missiles to incinerate humans, but he couldn’t utter the handful of syllables identifying the tactic everyone already knew about. So, in a way, it’s oddly refreshing to hear bizarre diplomatic silence broken.
Nothing good grows in political silence. Racism and sexism in America have historically been the matters impolitic to discuss. Feminist Betty Friedan pointed to “The Problem That Has No Name,” women’s suffering with the problem “unspoken.” The two forms of oppression thrived in white male silence, and a wide refusal to even discuss the matters has landed us where we are now.
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