May 05, 2016

The Japanese Trump


Donald Trump is the American Shintaro Ishihara, the main difference being that Ishihara has a higher-brow resume. An award-winning writer, director, and all-around raconteur, Ishihara got into national politics in the 1960s and was governor of Tokyo from 1999 to 2012.

Which proves that intelligence and literary talent are not obstacles to becoming a motor-mouthed blowhard.

Ishihara's monumental ego is only the first of their many shared similarities. He told Playboy in 1990, "If I had remained a movie director, I can assure you that I would have at least become a better one than Akira Kurosawa."

Although attached to far right causes and called "Japan's Le Pen,"
Ishihara, like Trump, is really a "Know Nothing" nativist. Trump's most outrageous remarks about immigrants differ only in geographical terms from those of Shintaro Ishihara.

If you think Trump is a bull in a china shop, in April 2012 Ishihara offered to purchase (out of his own pocket) the contested Senkaku Islands and lit off an utterly unnecessary and dangerous international incident with China.

Recall as well that Ishihara was co-author with Sony chairman Akio Morita of the nationalistic screed, The Japan That Can Say No. Ishihara just wants to make Japan "great again."

Believe it or not, Trump is not nearly as impolitic in his public statements as Ishihara. It's hard to imagine Trump describing women past a certain age as "useless" (though his marital choices suggest so). And unlike Ishihara, Trump has yet to insult the French.

At the time, Ishihara's outrageous declarations never seemed to cost him in the polls. Nevertheless, the political factions he headed steadily lost ground and he left politics in 2014.

It's easy to argue that a more circumspect Ishihara could have become prime minister. But a more circumspect Ishihara would never have attracted such a brilliant spotlight.

The same goes for Donald J. Trump. A subdued Trump would have turned into Michael Bloomberg, get elected mayor of New York, and slowly fade away. Fourteen years Ishihara's junior, at the age of 69, this is Trump's last shot at seizing the brass ring.

The possibility doesn't worry me in the slightest. Unless it's 1861 or 1941 or you're living in Syria right now, spare me visions of the impending Apocalypse. The British burned down the White House and most of Washington in 1814. We got over it.

Among the Republican candidates (and Hillary), Trump's "Prime Directive" approach to foreign policy is the only one that makes sense. Not that much else of what he says makes sense (especially trade policy), but, hey, you take what you can get.

If Trump does get elected president, we're going to see the checks and balances of the American Constitution put into action, which makes it possible for Congress to accomplish a great deal by doing nothing (which it should do more of).

And if he manages to blow up the GOP in the process, all the power to him. Perhaps Trump is just the man to convince the political left as well that a less powerful federal government, and especially a less powerful chief executive, is a good thing.

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