“HIGH ENERGY BASED Japan approved blanked [sic] surveillance over ALL” Muslims!
So reads the celebratory title of a Reddit post linking to an old news article about Japan’s highest court approving surveillance of Muslims. The post is from the The_Donald community on Reddit, the major online gathering place for U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters. For them, it is a welcoming, “high energy” subculture dense with memes, conspiracy theories, alternative news sources, and celebration of Trump’s intellect and leadership — a never-ending online Trump rally. I have been lurking in the community since the time when a Trump presidency was no more than a wacky thought experiment, but for the uninitiated, Christine Lagorio-Chafkin from the New York Times provides a great introduction.
Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visits to the United States, I have been struck by the community’s admiration for Japan and belief in Trump’s widespread popularity there. Abe and Trump’s bromance was warmly received by the The_Donald community, where it was celebrated with posts such as “70% of japanese approved of pm shinzo abe’s trump visit! winning!” Indeed, the community has found many reasons to admire Japan. A 2015 Fox News headline, “Japan not taking in refugees; says it must look after its citizens first” was posted several times in February, with numerous other discussion threads praising Japan’s strict immigration policy. Back in December a post sharing a piece by the far-right news site Infowars, analyzing how Japan’s policies are a model for resisting Islamic terrorism, was one of the most popular topics in the community. In one of the highest rated comments, user bottomlines explains his admiration for Japan:
“Even this aside, Japan is a nice example of a country which prioritized itself: Third largest economy in the world. One of the highest living standards. One of the safest countries. And they have a very close-knit, friendly, and mostly well-functioning society. We are all using Japanese products, which are designed, created and made IN Japan using their own brains and manufacturing. So many enormous companies are Japanese.
“They don’t thrust themselves head-first into every foreign endeavor. They are fiercely defensive of their culture, and unaccepting of people coming in and trying to change it. If you go there, you’d better learn their language and follow their customs.
“I might even say they are a bit too insular, but I honestly admire their balls for absolutely refusing to buy into the globalism open-borders bullshit.”
This admiration for Japanese society also complicates the characterization of the The_Donald community as a racist, misogynistic, homophobic hub for white supremacists. In fact, the community is frustrated by such accusations and frequently celebrates black, LGBT, and female Trump supporters. At the height of the community’s interest in Japan, a Japanese-American Trump supporter created a thread to answer Japan-related questions, where her identity as a mixed race immigrant in a homosexual relationship was picked up on by the community as yet another example of how the mainstream media unfairly mischaracterizes The_Donald posters.
Although the nationalist wave that made Trump president no doubt re-energized many old-school racists and white supremacists, The_Donald is a younger community, with many members quite accepting of other cultures and identities — when framed in their own terms, not those of the liberal left. They are not simple xenophobes, but hold that all nations (the U.S., Japan, and Mexico alike) have a right to protect their people and culture without a carte blanche obligation to accept outside people and values. They ridicule college feminism and its obsession with safe spaces, trigger warnings, and limitless gender identities, but celebrate Kurdish and Israeli warrior women and condemn the misogyny of Islam. Many describe themselves as having previously been uncritical of mainstream liberal values, until they were “red pilled,” a metaphor from the movie “The Matrix” to describe waking up to the truth.
Communities like The_Donald will continue to carve out in our political discourses a growing space for a younger, less crusty body of nationalist values to do battle with college liberalism for the hearts and minds of coming generations. Adherence to values of tolerance, multiculturalism and social progressiveness as envisioned in the prevailing mainstream of liberal thinking will no longer be the unchallenged measure of Western civilization.
This new contested space will suit Japan well. Ever since Meiji Japan sought to join the club of European empires, Japan has been playing catch-up with the values of developed Western nations that set the standard for what civilized society should look like. In Japan, ideas such as internationalization or women’s empowerment often feel like they are being introduced top down and from the outside, without being driven locally by powerful social movements or vigorous public discussion. Even university campuses, hotbeds for activism on social issues in the United States and Europe, are as politically apathetic as any part of Japanese society.
The real values that most of Japan holds on issues such as multiculturalism and women’s empowerment are in fact much closer to the values of The_Donald than of elite liberals. Although poor performance in gender equality rankings is embarrassing, Japan’s pursuit of women’s empowerment is a pragmatic response to an aging and shrinking population and is accompanied by little critical discussion on the nature or politics of gender identities, much less any feminist anger at a volume we are used to in the West.
Meanwhile, various aspects of internationalization in Japan often feel like a layer of surface gimmicks, precariously built on an underlying anxiety about protecting a Japanese culture and society often reluctant or unable to substantially engage with foreign cultures. Ready as Japan may be to “attract international talent” in the specific form of university educated white people, it would much prefer to build robots than throw open its doors to workers from countries elsewhere in Asia or, more unlikely still, refugees from the Middle East.
Should the Millennial nationalism represented by The_Donald eventually make its way to mainstream legitimacy in Western societies, it could set the scene for Japan to assert a less awkward (inter)national identity that is unashamed, perhaps even celebratory, of its cultural and social homogeneity and lack of multiculturalism. There may be a tipping point where Japan’s defensive approach to globalization and reluctance to open its arms to multiculturalism will be held as a model for how a civilized developed nation might position itself in the Trump era. For members of The_Donald, Japan is already such a model.
Sakari Mesimäki is a Finnish public affairs consultant based at APCO Worldwide in Tokyo. © 2017, The Diplomat; distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC