“Nope,” I told my friends at the Prime Minister’s Office on Dec. 9 when asked if anything will change as President-elect Joe Biden tries to survive the barrage of conservative legal challenges to overturn the 2020 presidential election. “Washington will just move ahead as if nothing unusual happened on Election Day,” I said.
Even though conspiracy theories remain popular in Tokyo, I knew that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected just a day earlier a legal request from Pennsylvania Republicans to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the state. When I said “no” to my friends with great confidence, however, I did not know at the time that the State of Texas had submitted another lawsuit with the nation’s top court challenging the conduct of the election in four other battleground states.
When I learned about the amicus brief signed by 126 Republican congressmen in support of the Texas lawsuit, I grew nervous and asked myself whether I had misled my friends. I also wondered if SCOTUS this time might take up and approve the motion by Texas. Fortunately, just 48 hours later, it was “denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution.” What a relief that was!
As for Donald Trump’s tweet that SCOTUS “must show great Courage & Wisdom. Save the USA!!!,” the court seems to have done exactly that — saved democracy in the United States. Many people in Japan, however, still wonder if Trump really won the election. Who are those in Tokyo taking to the streets claiming a Trump victory and the election was stolen? The following are some of my observations:
The Tokyo demonstrations
There were at least two demonstrations organized by “Trump supporters” in Tokyo. In the first, held on Nov. 25, around 200 people, both young and old, participated. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, a liberal daily newspaper, the demonstrators in a well-organized manner, and escorted by the police, marched from Hibiya Park to Ginza while loudly chanting slogans.
— Jeffrey J. Hall 🇯🇵🇺🇸 (@mrjeffu) November 29, 2020
The second, held on Nov. 29, comprised 650 people, according to the Asahi Shimbun, another liberal daily. In both cases, demonstrators displayed signs such as “U.S. presidential election, Winner is Trump!” “U.S. and Japanese media must report the truth!” “Defend Japan from China’s threats!” “Cheer up Hong Kong!” and “Fraud in the U.S. election is destroying democracy!”
While many marchers flew the Stars and Stripes or carried big banners saying “Keep America Great – Support Trump from Japan,” some also displayed Japan’s national flag. And in and odd pairing, some of the Nov. 29 banners, such as one calling for “Democracy in Hong Kong,” were created by Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire and activist, and Steve Bannon, who served as a chief strategist for Trump.
Who were the organizers?
Such large-scale demonstrations with so many well-crafted banners and flags could not have take place spontaneously. The marches certainly were not the work of an individual or a group of amateurs. The protests had to be the brainchild of a big and affluent organization or a group of such organizations. A Mainichi reporter identified one Japanese organizer as a member of a small religious group in Japan.
No matter who the Japanese organizers were, they certainly don’t support Trump because they are white supremacists or QAnon activists. I suspect the organizers must be either strongly conservative or right-wing, anti-Chinese activists who are suspicious of the establishment — such as a so-called Japanese “deep state” — and who are not satisfied with the current situation in Japan in general.
Who were the demonstrators?
While the great majority of demonstrators were Japanese citizens, journalists reported that Chinese, Koreans, Americans and Poles also participated. Are they all Trump lovers? Hardly. Reportedly, some marchers only spoke Chinese and were not fluent in Japanese. In fact, the identities of those demonstrators are still unknown.
Regardless of who they were, it’s difficult to discern exactly why such a disparate group of people came together over the results of the U.S. election. Some may be expat Americans or Europeans living in Japan who really loved and supported Donald Trump. Others may be anti-Chinese Communist Party citizens of China or anti-Japanese government Koreans. As for the Japanese demonstrators, their motives in joining the demonstrations seem to be much more complicated.
Right-wing internet influencers?
Some pundits speculate that Trumpism in Japan likely spread among right-wingers via the internet. During the Shinzo Abe era, online right-wing preachers used to make money by promoting various conspiracy theories. After Prime Minister Abe left, they argue, the preachers saw Trumpism as an opportunity to continue making money and influencing people.
All in all, the Japanese believers in Trumpism probably consist of frustrated and unhappy groups of people with conservative, religious, xenophobic and nationalistic tendencies. Is such Trumpist support a temporary phenomena? Hardly, and the demonstrations will definitely continue.
Trumpism’s future in Japan
For Japan, there is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that the nation’s dark side comprising nationalism, populism and xenophobic behavior, which I liken to being socio-political in nature, will grow — especially if the country fails to recover from the economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news is that Japan’s dark side is much less racist, ethnocentric and inward looking than its counterpart in the United States. The Trumpists in Japan are also not armed with pistols, rifles or automatic weapons. Their expressions of frustration and anger are therefore likely to be calmer and less violent.
Most importantly, Japanese society is mature enough to overcome such ugly and unhealthy feelings — hopefully. So let us keep our fingers crossed.
Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Japanese government.