NEW YORK – The 2016 U.S. presidential race has entered a new stage with Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon, emerging as the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Despite criticism of his lack of experience in public office and controversial remarks, as well as persistent efforts by the party establishment to dislodge him, Trump won one primary election after another, making it certain that he will win the 1,237 delegates needed for the GOP nomination at its July convention in Cleveland.
On the Democratic Party side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has put up a good fight against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who the U.S. media predict will eventually clinch the nomination at the July party convention in Philadelphia.
Few predicted Trump’s victory when 12 presidential hopefuls began their campaigns for the GOP nomination in the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1. In the ensuing four months, Trump defeated his rivals one by one and in the process collecting more than 10 million votes — among the highest number ever won by a Republican presidential candidate. He fought his campaign with a simple platform: “America first” and “Make America great again.”
At times, Trump’s radical statements, such as building a wall to stem the inflow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and barring Muslims from entering the U.S., invited criticism from people who consider him to be less than a serious candidate. But his campaign resonated with a large number of Americans, who apparently feel they have been increasingly marginalized in a society dictated by political elites in Washington.
Among Trump’s strong supporters are white, male, blue collar workers whose job security has been threatened by illegal immigrants and big businesses that have moved their manufacturing bases to Mexico or elsewhere where production costs are cheaper. In the course of the primaries and caucuses, the number of Trump supporters has expanded to include a wider bracket of people who find him to be less beholden to political elites, not afraid to speak his mind, free from the constraints of political correctness, and a successful businessman who can make America great again.
Indeed, the sense of anger and frustration about the political establishment in Washington, as is seen in the record-low approval rating of Congress, seems to have cut across party lines and be shared among Democrats as well. Sanders’ better-than-expected performance has been driven primarily by a growing number of young Democrats who suffer from lower wages, heavy debt from school loans and inadequate health coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” which was introduced by President Barack Obama in 2010.
More than 40 million Americans have outstanding student loans, with the average debt close to $30,000, and more than 30 million are either not insured or under-insured. Sanders, who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” advocates free college education and a Medicare for All universal health care system, among other things. Despite the prevailing view in the media that he cannot beat Clinton, Sanders is not backing down and is still determined to keep going till the July convention, even as Democratic leaders worry his passionate campaign could divide the party and end up giving Trump the White House.
Regarding foreign policy, Trump, Sanders and Clinton (albeit to a lesser extent) believe that free trade is a major reason behind America’s disappearing middle class, growing poverty and the widening gap between the rich and everyone else. All three voice their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement signed in February with a view to promoting free trade among 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the U.S. and Japan.
America’s allies are also concerned about Trump’s controversial remarks on security issues. For example, Trump has argued that Japan should cover the entire costs of stationing U.S. forces in the country, though Tokyo reportedly foots close to 75 percent of the bill already. He said that he would otherwise consider withdrawing the U.S. military and allow Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons. However, he has been silent about the value of the strategic interest that the U.S. enjoys through the current bilateral security arrangement.
The presence of a stable, democratic and prosperous Japan in Northeast Asia is in the interest of the U.S. Cognizant of this, both Clinton and Sanders have stressed the importance of U.S. allies, including Japan, when it comes to peace and security in Asia. In the age of interdependence, it is not possible for the U.S., or any country for that matter, to live in complete isolation from the rest of the world. The next president cannot disregard the strategic interest the U.S. enjoys in Northeast Asia and beyond under the present security arrangement with Japan, particularly given China’s growing influence.
Regardless of the development in the presidential race, Japan-U.S. relations will likely remain the cornerstone of America’s foreign policy in Asia. The presidential hopefuls should remember and learn from the wisdom of the late Mike Mansfield, one of the most respected U.S. ambassadors to Tokyo, who once said, “Japan-U.S. relations are the most important bilateral relations, bar none.”
Based in New York, former United Nations official Hitoki Den is the author of “Kokuren wo Yomu: Watashino Seimukan Noto Kara” (“A Story of the U.N.: From the Notes of a Political Affairs Officer”) and many articles on U.N. and Asian issues.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.