Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2020.11.13

2016 was Hillary Clinton's to lose. Who lost in 2020?

the japan times on November 5, 2020

International Politics/Diplomacy The U.S.A.

Donald J. Trump, a political entertainer of the 21st century like no other, never failed to deliver over the past four years. Thanks to him, I have at least seven TV and radio appearances this week where I will be tasked with predicting who will be the eventual winner, whether it is the current president or Joe Biden, and what the election outcome may mean for Japan.

Due to my new appointment as a special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet, I have every reason to decline making comments on who will win and which of the two will be better for Japan. I feel more comfortable now having been relieved of the burden of making difficult predictions this time around.

With such a weight lifted off my shoulders, I was able to sit back and enjoy listening to my fellow TV commentators give their takes on the Trump and Biden situation. What fascinated me most on Wednesday while I was on my favorite political talk show was that two seasoned Japanese journalists predicted and even defended a potential Trump victory, while a Japanese-speaking American journalist challenged them.

What was more fascinating was to see another Japanese-speaking American commentator telling one of the “Trumpist” Japanese journalists that “If Trump wins today, I may not see you tomorrow. I thought Biden was going to win because I believed in an American conscience.”

Probably nowhere else in the world could indigenous Trumpist journalists and moderate expat American intellectuals appear together on TV to quarrel over a U.S. election. That was when I started to feel that something ominous was really happening to conservatism in the United States.

In one TV program, I was asked what would happen if Mr. Trump declared victory on Election Day and filed a lawsuit alleging mail-in voting fraud. I reluctantly answered, “nothing will until Mr. Biden concedes!” As we all had expected, Trump made the declaration. Luckily, though, nothing serious seems to have happened so far.

Before Nov. 3, many major news outlets in the United States had predicted a comfortable win for Joe Biden. Although developments showed at least temporarily a potential Trump victory until midnight yesterday, U.S. media election forecasts this year seemed to be much more accurate than in 2016.

As for my predictions for the U.S. vote, I wrote about nine possible scenarios last week that might happen on Election Day, as well as the impact they may have on Japan and other nations in East Asia in 2021. Out of those nine, only two survived the election. The following are those two scenarios with my take on how Tokyo and East Asia will see the results.

Scenario two

Republicans win both the White House and the Senate but lose the House of Representatives. This means there will be no serious political or power changes in the nation’s capital. With the status quo maintained — a situation Tokyo knows well how to deal with — Beijing and Pyongyang would likely not be too thrilled with the outcome, while Seoul would remain ambivalent.

Scenario five

Democrats win the White House and the House but lose the Senate. This scenario is also problematic because the U.S. government will continue to be divided. The light at the end of the tunnel might be less uncertainty and more predictability in the White House, which is better news for East Asia.

As of the morning of Nov. 5, Tokyo time, we still do not know which one of the two will be the case. What I am more concerned about, however, is the ramification of the 2020 U.S. election results in the years to come. Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, but who is losing in 2020? Here are some thoughts:

In my last column I erroneously referred to a ninth “extra scenario” that predicted an overwhelming landslide victory in the presidential election. I said, “Trumpism will not go away. That is because Mr. Trump did not create the populist, nationalistic, xenophobic and discriminatory movements — they found him in 2016.”

Although a landslide victory never happened, I may be right in predicting that Trumpism will survive the election — whether Trump wins or not. Without moderate conservatism and realistic liberalism, American politics will most likely continue to remain polarized, making the country difficult to govern.

Can American voters really stop the degradation of U.S. politics? Probably not. Did they make the right decision on Nov. 3? Maybe. At least, they did their best, but that may not be enough for the U.S.’s allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific, Europe or the Middle East.

In 2016, in my view, Trump did not win; Clinton just lost. In 2020, did Biden lose or did Trump? It remains to be seen. However, one thing is for sure, the real losers are the American people and their friends around the world. What we have lost is the powerful, united, internationally minded good-old America of the past several decades.

No matter what the results will be, I am beginning to realize that the 2020 U.S. elections may forever change the United States unless the next administration in 2021 takes measures to fix the situation. Those who deal with the United States, friends and foes alike, must face the new reality.