Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2018.10.09

Where ruining people is still considered sport

the japan times on October 2, 2018

Last week I was invited to participate in an international conference in Taipei that was hosted by several of Taiwan's private think-tanks and governmental ministries. For me, it was not only a great honor but also a sentimental journey, since it was during the winter of 1976-1977 in Taipei that I, at the age of 23, first studied Chinese abroad.

The two-full-day conference, titled "2018 Asia-Pacific Think-Tank Summit," was attended by presidents and senior scholars of research institutions from 18 countries/entities. It was a golden opportunity for me, and probably for many other participants as well, to rediscover Taiwan's strategic and geopolitical values.

One Japanese participant, a former Cabinet member, for example, stated in his keynote speech as follows: "Historically, the island chain starting from Japan to Taiwan, the Philippines and all the way to Indonesia has long been preventing aggression or maritime advances by the continental powers.

"What we must protect now," he continued, "is such universal values as the free market, freedom of speech and democracy, human rights and the sovereignty of each nation. It is, therefore, imperative for us in the Indo-Pacific region to secure the island chain that connects the peoples who value a just and open international order."

Although the sessions were fun and intellectually stimulating, I once again tested my stamina, which is not so powerful anymore, in Taipei. It was not because the meeting schedule was so tight that we had no time to rest, but because I had to sit up late to watch CNN coverage of the Kavanaugh-Ford testimonies in the U.S. Senate.

"I was sexually assaulted, and nobody believed me," two sexual assault survivors told a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake before the final voting. "I didn't tell anyone, and you're telling all women that they don't matter." "Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land."

It was a powerful message not only to the senator himself but also to many male politicians in the United States. Yet, I wondered if I was misled by the remarks of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, and those of Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party in 1982 when they were in high school.

When I first heard Ford testify under oath, I thought what she said was compelling and credible -- especially when I heard that her strongest memory of the incident was the "uproarious laughter between the two (Kavanaugh and his friend) and their having fun at my expense." It sounded so real and I was inclined to believe her.

Kavanaugh, however, later gave, also under oath, a completely different narrative. When I heard him say that he "categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation," he looked a bit emotional but confident enough. I couldn't find reasons to doubt his credibility, either. Our problem is that one of the two might have lied under oath.

The Kavanaugh scandal has become a national issue in the United States, although it has not been fully covered in Japan's mainstream media. Tokyo's focus is more on the mid-term elections and Trump's political survivability. Yet, in Washington, this case is more about the male-dominant culture in the land of freedom and justice.

When it comes to male chauvinism, Tokyo is no better than Washington. If Japanese males are as uncivilized as their American counterparts, there must be more hidden sexual abuse cases than reported. The #MeToo movement is also on the rise here and I am 100 percent confident that what happens in the U.S. will eventually happen in Japan.

Having said that, I still have some fundamental questions. Who leaked Ford's supposedly confidential letter to the media in the first place? But for the leak, this issue might have developed in a different and much more civilized manner. Poor Ford had to publicly testify under oath in front of dozens of prying TV cameras.

Second, why didn't the GOP senators spontaneously decide to postpone Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation voting until after an FBI probe would be completed? And finally, why did the Democratic senators withhold Ford's claim until the last moment? Due to all the above three factors, the Ford and Kavanaugh families were cruelly devastated.

This reminded me of the famous suicide note by Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster in August 1993. Since I was then stationed in Washington, I vividly remember what he really meant by "Here ruining people is considered sport." The Washingtonian tradition is still there and politics continues to destroy the lives and souls of the innocent.

Having been alive for 65 year this October, I am finally beginning to understand how to live a decent and stress-free life. Three conditions must be met to do that, because there are three human desires that are difficult to control in life that can ruin your family and yourself: power, wealth and sex.

If you have excessive political ambitions, for example, they will either ruin your opponents or destroy yourself, causing great stress to all. Some people successfully run for public offices while others fail. Kavanaugh seems to be controlling this desire since a great majority of Republican senators seem ready to vote for his confirmation.

If you have excessive financial ambitions, don't get into politics, because a political life often requires you to spend more than you earn. This is especially true if you want to be elected or selected for the highest office of the nation. Kavanaugh doesn't seem to be greedy. So, probably he has less problems with money.

Finally, if you have an excessive sexual desire, just try to control it. If you can't do it at my age of 65, for example, you will lose your honor and credibility. When young, most males may have at least a few moments where they are extremely drunk and have memory blackouts. Embarrassingly, I experienced that twice: in Cairo in 1980 and in Beijing in 2002.

The key question is whether drinking alcohol automatically leads to sexual abuse. This is hardly the case. Although Kavanaugh was a teenager at that party where he got really drunk, it is most likely that he remembered what took place. If he didn't remember what transpired, it could mean that he had a blackout. No wonder he can categorically and unequivocally deny the allegations.