Since Shinzo Abe returned to power in 2012, I have referred to the deterioration of democracy as “Abe-ization.” Abe-ization is a phenomenon characterized by the following features.
1) A childish character with an extremely strong narcissist tendency takes power. 2) On the flip side of the narcissism, the man in power is unable to accept criticism against or advice to him, and in turn comes to hate the people who criticize him. 3) The man in power will resort to any means to attack his critics, including false charges and fabrication of facts, especially toward mass media organizations that are critical of him. 4) The man in power does not feel ashamed even when his lies have been exposed, and constantly tries to justify himself. 5) Among the man in power and people who support him pervades an anti-intellectualism that prevents them from discerning fact from fabrication.
This Abe-ization has spread around the world, most recently coming in the form of Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election in November. A close aide to Abe is said to have noted that the prime minister would get along well with Trump. In fact, they are birds of the same feather in that they both have strong narcissistic tendencies and are prone to making false statements. Furthermore, Trump’s victory could have a major role in reversing the history of modern-day democracy.
A person who sneers at democracy or the principles that civilized societies rely on, and vowed to discriminate against or bully specific groups, wins the election as the common-sense media frowns on his behavior. The most important principle in the United States is, for example, summarized in its Declaration of Independence — “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Real life is full of disparities and inequalities, and everybody knows that there are gaps between principles and reality. However, the Founding Fathers who fought the War of Independence dared to consider all men as equal, thereby creating a system in which the people will take part in politics as equal human beings. They broadened the definition of “men” — which initially referred only to educated white males with fortunes — to include laborers, women and people of other races, thus universalizing the principles of freedom, equality and dignity. That is the history of democracy.
As the number of newcomers who benefit from these principles increased, part of the former mainstream groups of society reacted by seeking to restrict freedom and dignity as their privilege. Trump represents people’s boredom with such principles.
Let us think about what lessons the experience in the U.S. will teach Japan. Japan faces the same risk as the U.S. — in the sense that politics of hatred and division prevail just as people’s lives get worse. Right-wing commentators are indeed prone to outright discrimination and bullying. What options will emerge after the collapse of Abenomics? A key lesson from the U.S. experience is that liberal forces must not hesitate to spell out social democratic policies. What’s necessary for the opposition parties is to cooperate with each other to pursue the political values of protecting the free and tolerant society, as well as the economic value of protecting the foundation of livelihood and jobs of ordinary workers, especially youths and parents raising children. The victory of an anti-nuclear power candidate in the Niigata gubernatorial election points to the need for the parties to change their energy policies.
The Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party are seeking to start full-scale talks on campaign cooperation for the next general election of the Lower House. It is essential that their cooperation will not end in merely coordinating their candidates across electoral districts. They must spell out a common policy platform on major issues. What’s also important is to get the citizenry involved in their policy discussions. As they discuss campaign cooperation, the opposition parties need to share a strong sense of crisis over democracy in Japan.
Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo.
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