Last week, Tokyo pulled out all the stops for U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s two-day visit, including invoking such measures as the latest in anti-bomb technology: a bit of paper over trash bins and the country’s iconic vending machines as well as shutting down every coin locker in Tokyo.
The visit was part of a 12-day tour across Asia, where Trump is hoping to shore up alliances and offset his rapidly declining ratings back home.
“Winning” at trade
You can’t bring up a discussion of Trump without talking about trade and the economy, along with a careful sprinkling on the anatomy of those people who helped Willy Wonka in his factory. First on the agenda was fixing the apparent issues with Japan and America’s trade agreements. Trump opened up his talks in Japan by lecturing a room full of American and Japanese business leaders. He said Japan had been “winning” on trade — clearly demonstrating his amazing conception of how trade actually works.
Trump claimed that Japan and the U.S. were now in talks to make trade between the two countries more “free and reciprocal.” You can go ahead and interpret that as meaning “more favorable to the U.S.” In 2016, the U.S. Treasury reported that Japan had a $68.9 billion1 trade surplus with the U.S. — a surplus he is eager to fix and use as leverage to entice more nationalist sentiment at home.
Trump also told a room full of diplomats — as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — that the Japanese people were “thriving,” that cities across Japan were “vibrant” and that the country had built one of the world’s “most powerful” economies. Now, putting aside Japan’s population decrease, rapidly vanishing cities and failing economic policies, his speech also carried with it a threat. Trump added, “I don’t think it’s [the economy] as good as ours… We’re going to keep it that way…”
His message was clear: America first. Trade is the No. 1 way Trump knows he can wrangle the rest of the world into supporting the American hegemony. Yet, in Japan, the rising sun is fast setting on American dominance. Many political leaders, and Abe himself, have increasingly been looking toward Europe and closer to home for future trade partnerships.
Guns and hamburgers
Beside the subheading being the name of my next band, it also alludes to plenty of embarrassing moments to pick apart. Trump didn’t fail to disappoint and managed to fill newsrooms across the globe with talk of his exploits.
“Fishgate” occurred when Trump and Abe both decided to unceremoniously drop a box of food on some koi (Japanese ornamental carp). “Bowgate” happened when Trump didn’t curtsy or genuflect to the soon-to-abdicate Emperor Akihito, but offered a brusque nod (I assume to try and avoid any more cultural hiccups) and reportedly “tapped him on the arm”2 several times.
And finally, “Gungate” in which he assured the Emperor that mass shootings — following the deadly attack at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas earlier this month — could occur anywhere. It’s a difficult statement to swallow, considering that Japan measures its deaths by firearms with only two digits (in 20143 that number was only six, a drop from 11 in 20084). This pales in comparison to the U.S. where over 33,000 firearms-related deaths occurred last year.5
Of course, no trip to another country is complete without experiencing its traditional cultural activities. Perhaps a sport, maybe even an event or a festival. So Abe took Trump to play the traditional Japanese pastime of golf. It wasn’t completely uneventful. I’m sure Trump managed to impress Abe with his expert golfing skills, especially after all those hours he’s logged at home in this past year.
During their adventure together on the links — and away from the eyes of Trump — Abe managed to get himself in the rough. Meaning he ended up having to dig a stroke out of a nasty sand bunker and then managed to fall down back into it in a spectacular fashion when climbing out (seriously, check out the video). There must be some kind of foreshadowing going on here.
Subsequently, I also found that it’s quite fun to add the suffix “gate” to the end of unassuming words. It just got a bit confusing when an incident involving my garden entrance happened.
Trump’s refusal to show little in the way of cultural awareness and respect inflates his character, puts a sour taste in the mouth of diplomatic relations and does nothing but propagate anti-American sentiment.
By solely pointing out these childish and predictable gaffes, it draws attention away from Trump’s more dangerous actions. His flouting of cultural maxims extends his “America First” rhetoric and although he may be forgiven with allies like Japan, it opens up the possibilities for incidents with less welcoming countries.
Bling of the North
The real meaning for these talks was to stick the political-middle-finger to the dicta — I mean leader — of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.
Trump began his tour by wondering why “Samurai Japan” did not shoot down the missiles, and presumably also wondered why Abe wasn’t carrying a sword.
Also according to Trump, Japan was going to be purchasing large amounts of military equipment from the U.S. With this, he managed to kill two birds with one 5.56 caliber stone. He’s been able to sell more weapons, secure more American jobs (checking off a campaign promise) and add more fuel to the North Korean fire and fury bombast. He has essentially become a warlord leading and stumping for the American military complex, and it plays right into his perfectly adult-sized hands.
Visiting several strategic military bases in the region is about as subtle as waving a flag and saying, “Look at all the toys I have.”
This tour is all about sending a message: a saber instead of an olive branch, a stick instead of a carrot.
Trump couldn’t have timed it any better. With Abe recently winning an election in which he used North Korea to gain voters, the fact a visiting U.S.president has proudly proclaimed more weapons shipments to the doorstep of North Korea will not stem the tide of fear. After all, Trump is one of the few who stands to benefit from the rise of jingoism and a potential war, after all it does wonders for ratings (political, TV and otherwise… ).
Trump has been quick to set the tone for the rest of his whistle stop tour across Asia (including stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines): American power in the East is entering a new age.