Nagoya – Many Japanese people may not enjoy talking about domestic politics, but when I introduce myself as an American, I get asked about President Donald Trump more often than my liking.
First there were questions about the 2016 election and now little jabs about our coronavirus response. Fortunately, I can clarify the situation in my homeland when asked with just a bit of useful Japanese vocabulary.
This November, we Americans have a chance to change our national course when we 投票する (tōhyō suru, vote) in our 大統領選挙 (daitōryō senkyo, presidential election). It will pit Donald Trump of the 共和党 (kyōwatō, Republican Party) against Joe Biden of the 民主党 (minshutō, Democratic Party) — not to be confused with Japan’s own 民主党, which merged with another political party in 2016.
While Biden may have a リード (rīdo, lead) in the 世論調査 (yoronchōsa, polling) at the moment, we saw in the 2016 election that polls can mislead us in turn. In all likelihood, it will be a competitive race with a lot of costly 広告 (kōkoku, advertising) and several highly publicized ディベート (dibēto, debates). Thus far the 選挙運動 (senkyo undō, election campaign) fronts have been pretty quiet: バイデン候補は舞台裏で選挙活動をしています (Baiden-kōho wa butaiura de senkyo katsudō o shite-imasu, Candidate Biden has generally remained behind the scenes when campaigning). Due to the pandemic, the 候補者 (kōhosha, candidate) has been making only a few public speeches and appearances.
Trump, on the other hand, has either 直往邁進 (chokuōmaishin, pushed boldly forward), or been far too 無謀 (mubō, reckless), depending on if you think it’s wise to hold a 大規模集会 (daikibo shūkai, a large-scale rally) in the middle of a deadly pandemic. In Japan, election campaigning rules largely restrict candidates: they tend to have 駅前での選挙演説 (ekimae de no senkyo enzetsu, speeches in front of train stations) and 街宣車からの演説やキャッチフレーズの連呼 (gaisensha kara no enzetsu ya kyatchi furēzu no renko, play speeches and slogans from a sound truck).
Meanwhile, the messaging of both campaigns has focused largely on days gone by. Much of the success of Trump’s campaigns can be attributed to the ingenious slogan “Make America Great Again.” In which case, we could say that そのスローガンのおかげで国民の関心を得た (sono surōgan no okage de kokumin no kanshin o eta, thanks to that slogan [Trump] caught the interest of the country’s people). その一方で (Sono ippō de, On the other hand), from Biden’s perspective, トランプの政策のせいで国が分断した (Toranpu no seisaku no sei de kuni ga bundan shita, Trump’s policies are to blame for American society having become divided). In fact, both candidates are using a pretty similar strategy to what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did with his 2012 キャッチフレーズ: 「日本を、取り戻す」 (“Nihon o, Torimodosu,” “Take Back Japan”).
When talking about elections, it’s also useful to brush up on your conditional verb forms. Which one is it, anyways: バイデンが大統領になったら (Baiden ga daitōryō ni nattara, if Biden becomes president)、 なれば (nareba) or なるなら(naru nara)? Well, by using なったら, you’re expressing more of a “when” than an “if”—a pretty high degree of confidence that Biden will win it all. なれば is the safer, more conditional grammar structure here, assuming you’re not a time traveler, in which case you should’ve already gone ahead and given us that coronavirus vaccine. For example, it’s fair to say that バイデンが大統領になれば、感染拡大に伴う失業者への現金給付を延長する (Baiden ga daitōryō ni nareba, kansen kakudai ni tomonau shitsugyōsha e no genkin kyūfu o enchō suru, if Biden becomes president, he will provide additional cash relief for those who lost their jobs due to the impact of coronavirus).
But even if Biden wins, there are some popular policies that he won’t be implementing, such as 国民皆保険 (kokuminkaihoken, universal healthcare). So it might make sense to express a completely hypothetical scenario with the なら form: 選挙が民主党の大勝なら (senkyo ga minshutō no taishō nara, assuming the Democrats win a huge victory in the election), or 左翼がバイデンに圧力を加えるなら (sayoku ga Baiden ni atsuryoku o kuwaeru nara, if the left-wing puts pressure on Biden), then universal healthcare could be on the agenda かもしれません (kamo shiremasen, probably).
Whatever your political inclinations, it’s best to hedge your hot takes in Japanese with a かもしれません, a のではありませんか (no de wa arimasen ka, wouldn’t it~) or a super-fluffy のではないかと思いますけど (no de wa nai ka to omoimasu kedo, I think that~, but, you know, who knows…). Otherwise you may come off as an angry, policitized American. 大事な選挙がもうすぐなので、政治について話さざるを得ない (Daijina senkyo ga mōsugu nanode, seiji ni tsuite hanasazaru o enai, With such an important election around the corner, there’s no avoiding talking about politics).
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