Any sports writer will tell you that a great rivalry makes for a good story. But you also need a good story to make a great rivalry. Only when we have projected our ideals and our fears onto the adversaries, casting them as heroes or villains, do we truly care who wins the game.
The rivalry between the U.S. and China for economic dominance commands attention because of its massive significance for our own economy, but it also carries a compelling narrative: Each nation is the global standard-bearer for a distinct set of ideals. In this issue, economic historian Carl Benedikt Frey views that rivalry through the lens of culture and discusses how it has influenced the two countries’ comparative advantages. While he leaves aside questions of dueling ideologies, I think there is nonetheless an “idea of America” underlying the essay — an idea that has been under siege since well before Jan. 6, when a mob invaded the U.S. Capitol seeking to accomplish by brute force what it had failed to achieve at the ballot box.