Commentary / Japan

'Trumpetings' mean trouble for Japan and Asia

by Kevin Rafferty

Special To The Japan Times

With great showmanship Donald Trump set out his stall for his most audacious takeover bid — to run the United States. He made his entry at the Republican convention in Cleveland through shining clouds of dry ice, a silhouette looming into life, hand-clapping himself in the style of North Korean leaders, to the sound of “We are the champions” by British rock band Queen (who denied authorizing the use of their song).

It was entertaining, though second-rate, theater as Trump paraded his family, angry old politicians, a Silicon Valley billionaire, soap opera stars, and a — fully dressed — male underwear model to back his bid.

But Trump’s “Trumpetings” pose troubling questions for America and the world, particularly for Japan and Asia. Much of Trump’s campaign is based on bombast, hatred, half-truths and Messianic promises. For foreign countries, the key question is whether they could ever trust Trump’s America, especially after Trump declared that allies would have to prove themselves before he would honor America’s treaty obligations.

In his speech accepting the nomination as the Republican candidate, Trump offered a long laundry list promising to create a renewed, strong, proud, safe and great America immediately from Jan. 20, 2017.

He declared himself the law and order candidate who would also restore America economically; reduce taxes; create “millions of new jobs, and trillions in new wealth,” bring back coal, steel and manufacturing, cut big business and elite media to size, repeal Obamacare, rebuild infrastructure. Put kids first in education, end America’s “international humiliation,” curb globalization, renegotiate “horrible” trade deals with China and NAFTA, scrap the TPP, end “China’s outrageous theft of intellectual property, along with their illegal product dumping, and their devastating currency manipulation,” rebuild “our depleted military,” “defeat the barbarians of ISIS” and “brutal Islamic terrorism,” reduce immigration and build the “great border wall” with Mexico.

Leaving aside the obvious contradictions, only an almighty savior could achieve these tasks. Trump has no experience in government, and his business record is controversial. His slogan as host of “The Apprentice” — “You’re fired” — will not cut it in government.

There are disturbing questions about the direction of U.S. politics. A Catholic priest, Kieran Harrington, offered a public prayer that the convention would help “inspire us to build a more noble society.” There was little sign of that as one Trump supporter after another launched tirades of hatred against his opponent, Hillary Clinton. It amounted to a witch hunt that made Trump’s taunt of “crooked Hillary” sound tame.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conducted an impromptu kangaroo court trial over Clinton’s alleged misdeeds as secretary of state and found her guilty as the audience bayed, “Lock her up, lock her up.” Ben Carson, another candidate whom Trump defeated, dug up a college thesis of Clinton’s and claimed that one of her role models admired Lucifer (Satan).

For other leading Republicans, prison would be an undeserved luxury for Clinton. Al Baldasaro, whom Trump has called his favorite military veteran, declared on a radio show: “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Later he ruminated that the electric chair would be an acceptable alternative.

Ronald Reagan, the saint of the Republic right, must be turning in his grave at such viciously personal politics. Carl Bernstein, co-author of the misdeeds of President “Tricky Dicky” Nixon at Watergate, believes that the use of this scorched earth politics marks a dangerous turning point in U.S. history.

The chorus of name calling and blaming meant that there was no opportunity to learn the practical politics of how Trump plans to make America safe again or great again or create jobs and boost economic growth. His promises were lost in the roaring gale of invective.

On the eve of his victory speech Trump himself threw new clouds of smoke into the mystery of how he would govern if elected. He said in an interview with The New York Times that he might not automatically come to the aid of allies if they are attacked: They would have to prove themselves.

Even Republicans wondered how this squared with the promises of Mike Pence, Trump’s vice presidential nominee, that the U.S. would again be a reliable ally. David Frum, speechwriter to President George W Bush, declared on CNN that Trump’s statement amounted to “an encouragement to war.”

Regular observers of “The Donald’s” Trumpetings might be alarmed but were hardly surprised by his comments. Trump is essentially a businessman with no fixed guiding star except that everything is negotiable at all times.

For allies and foes alike, particularly in the tinderbox of the Asia-Pacific region, Trump’s unpredictability should be a matter of concern and will increase tensions. China might initially enjoy the prospects of a President Trump determined to make allies prove themselves and pay their way, which logically could lead to interesting policy changes and diminishing American involvement in the region. But Beijing should also remember the ancient curse of living in interesting times.

Japan and South Korea should be nervous. If they cannot trust the solemn promises of the U.S., should they go far beyond Article 9 and contemplate making nuclear weapons — which some Trump supporters have irresponsibly advocated for Japan?

Trump’s uncertainty about whether treaties mean anything might also embolden North Korea, which could turn interesting times into incendiary ones. Asia needs more cooperation and harmony, not more tension and conflict, if this region is to fulfill its potential.

The whole world should be worried about a Trump presidency because his love of wheeling and dealing disqualifies him from high office, where he has to serve the interests of the whole people, not just those of his family. His tendency to shoot from the mouth first and to think later increases the worries, as does the fact that Trumpetings often rub out the line between truth and fiction.

America’s tragedy will be if the presidential election is decided by who tells the biggest lies best. Clinton is widely distrusted, and constant exaggerations by Trump and friends may be eroding her popular support. Trump blamed Clinton, as secretary of state, for all the ills that have beset the Middle East, including Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, which he claimed had been peaceful before she took office.

Trump blamed Obama and “the elite” — as if he and the GOP were not pillars of the elite — for all America’s shootings, deterioration of law and order, and economic deprivation. He presented the U.S. as an impoverished country, although the figures say the economy is growing and joblessness is the lowest for years. His audience lapped up his claims and bayed for Clinton’s blood. The question is whether America at large will go along with his narrative.

A bus driver on the outer outskirts of the Republican convention told me: “I am inclining to Trump. How can we trust the Clinton dynasty? Our politics and government demands a big shake-up, which Trump is the only one who can achieve. Whether it will be good or bad, we will have to take our chance.” Be careful what you wish for.

Kevin Rafferty is a journalist and commentator.