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Xi Who Must Be Obeyed

Ian Buruma’s analysis of China’s historical evolution and President Xi Jinping’s quest for national unity is informative and well supported [“The Great Wall of Steel,” Report, February]. As he points out, China strives to maintain its hold on religious and ethnic minorities. People in China are also becoming more secular, and are embracing their country as a sacred object of worship instead, a substitution Xi capitalizes on. These two phenomena are connected: the government suppresses marginalized groups and weaponizes nationalism to create a unified front against foreign powers.

I am uncertain about China’s future should Xi remain in power. I recently asked a number of Chinese intellectuals in North America: Could you accept a disintegrated China? To my surprise, most of them said yes, that they can imagine a future in which China collapses into numerous small states. I’m not sure of my own position, but I can’t stop wondering how long the Chinese will allow a foolish leader such as Xi to sit above them.

Ha Jin
Professor of English and Creative Writing, Boston University
Boston

 

 

Bullet Points

As Rachel Monroe thoughtfully demonstrates, the nation is witnessing a remarkable expansion of gun rights as more states adopt permitless-carry policies [“Free Country,” Letter from Texas, February]. But one underacknowledged aspect of this shift rests in the seemingly commonsensical figure of the law-abiding gun owner.

Law-abiding status is dependent upon entrenched systems of identification by which certain people, regardless of their compliance, are more likely to be viewed as criminal threats, especially when armed. While white or white-passing people may take their law-abiding status for granted as they carry firearms into public spaces, those without the exonerating privilege of a white appearance continue to embody a potentially lethal stigma.

As Michael Cargill, the black gun owner at the center of Monroe’s article, knows too well, for non-white people, “the police are not your friend.” Black citizens cannot always expect the police to protect them, even when they are the targets of a crime. Nor can black gun owners trust that their Second Amendment rights will be honored in the same way as those of white gun owners. Tragic examples abound: consider that the licensed gun owner Philando Castile was killed by a police officer after informing him that he had a gun in the car.

The lawmakers advocating for more expansive gun rights aren’t interested in protecting people like Cargill, and their intentionally vague allusions to “law-abiding” citizens have predictable effects on how those rights are implemented, selectively empowering those who wield their guns in the service of exclusionary power structures. The purveyors of “gun rights”—and those who profit from our nation’s steady march toward full militarization—know exactly what they’re doing.

Caroline Light
Senior Lecturer on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

 

 

Pollemics

I agree with Christopher Beha that there are many reasons we should be skeptical of how some political polling is being done and, in an effort to garner clicks, how it is used by media outlets [“Sample Truths,” Easy Chair, February]. The desire to “gamify” politics often means that statistically indistinguishable changes are portrayed as substantively meaningful, and headlines misrespresent responses to provocative questions. Even so, it is too hasty to conclude that we are better off without political polling.

It is hard, perhaps impossible, to know what the public thinks about complex policies. But successful polls, in principle, offer a scientific method of representing a wide cross section of the public by giving (nearly) everyone the chance to express their opinions on a set of issues without sizable costs. It is unclear why the “descriptive reports” Beha suggests would be any better. In fact, there are reasons to think they would be worse. For one, depth is no substitute for breadth. Knowing a lot about those who are willing to talk to you about their beliefs in great detail tells you nothing about how widespread those beliefs may be. There is also no indication that those people would be more representative than those who respond to polls.

Even if polling can’t provide the level of detail that Beha would like, they still offer valuable insights. Elections tell us who wins, but they cannot tell us why. Did voters support the winner’s policies, or dislike the other candidate’s personality? When Republicans took the House in 1994, they claimed a mandate for their Contract with America legislative agenda. But 71 percent of voters said they had never heard of the contract. Polling proved that the GOP’s claims were specious.

Giving up on polling would mean losing the main defense we have against politicians grandstanding about what “the public” wants. I am not yet willing to abandon that defense, however weak it may currently seem.

Joshua D. Clinton
Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tenn.

Correction

Because of an editing error, a line in the January Index incorrectly identified the leader of the Spanish government as the president. He is the prime minister. We regret the error.