Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2023.08.30

Where is the America I once knew headed?

The growing political and social divisions that are tearing apart a once proud country are very much apparent.

the Japan Times on Aug 18, 2023

International Politics/Diplomacy National Security The U.S.A.

WASHINGTON – Just about two weeks ago, I wrote about San Francisco's urban blight and suburban prosperity. I opined on the West Coast hippie culture that influenced me so much in my youth in the 1960s and '70s having been lost.

Yet, I was even more astonished when I revisited Washington this week, as I began to feel that San Francisco’s sociopolitical transformation is not just a West Coast phenomenon but perhaps a new trend that eventually the entire United States may follow.

As I arrived in Washington, criminal prosecution began in Georgia against former President Donald Trump, his fourth such recent indictment. While a tax evasion charge against the Trump Organization was understandable, the charges of hush money to a porn star, keeping classified documents illegally and even abetting a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol Building would be out of the question. In most countries, these would be more than enough to end anybody’s political life.

In the U.S., however, that is not the case. There is a great divide in the United States, exemplified by the reporting of CNN and Fox News, which represent polar opposite sides of the American political spectrum.

On one hand, CNN, for example, continued to criticize Trump endlessly, as if he were the head of a demon and even encouraged moderate Republicans to criticize him. On the other, Fox paraded a chorus of commentators before the cameras complaining about what they deemed as the "weaponization" of the judicial system and the U.S. government.

Where is America going? The indictment against Trump, Rudy Giuliani and 17 others for alleged violations of Georgia law included more than a hundred counts of racketeering, perjury and other charges. The word “racketeering” is particularly shocking as it is a term that would normally be used to describe the illegal activities of gangs or organized crime.

The mood in Washington is that Ron DeSantis' campaign is faltering, Trump is almost certain to win the Republican nomination and even reelection. If so, a massive and thorough retaliation against the "deep state" could begin. It is as if the political division in the U.S. is reaching an irreversible tipping point.

I was also privileged to have spoken with Asian Americans during my trip at an event in northern Virginia where divisions were also palpable. I was invited to a dinner in Fairfax County by an organization supporting young Asian Americans. It was a meaningful event where I got a firsthand look at their realities and got to hear them express their opinions.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, but there are patterns that go with immigration.

Specifically, first-generation hard-working immigrants, who may not even speak English and/or suffer from discrimination, dream of seeing their children excel. The second generation, many of whom fluently speak both English and the parents' native language, reach a level of "intellectual explosion" and many times achieve some sort of economic success. The third generation and beyond, who may not speak their grandparents’ language, often go on to become more successful as lawyers, doctors or other professionals.

However, not all Asian Americans are leading successful lives. Some may drop out, join the wrong crowd and even end up in gangs. The aim of these support groups is to help second-generation minority youths gain self-confidence and success.

Despite the success and positive attitudes of these young Asian Americans, many probably experienced discrimination as they grew up. At the same time, I was personally struck by the fact that the gathering was dominated by young Americans of Vietnamese, Korean and Indian descent, with zero young Japanese Americans among them.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence. However, I also heard that some Japanese Americans, who are mostly third-generation immigrants or later, have a slightly different mindset and tend not to mingle with groups of new immigrants such as Korean and Vietnamese immigrants.

The social position of Japanese Americans and Korean Americans may be somehow different among Asian Americans, perhaps reflective of their standing in international relations.

Meanwhile, the Japan-U.S.-South Korea trilateral summit is being held this weekend at Camp David. The focus is, of course, on further improving Japan-South Korea relations.

This is the first attempt of mediation between the leaders of two friendly nations hosted by a U.S. president at Camp David in at least four decades and could be of extremely important historical significance, similar to the "Camp David Accord" in 1978 involving Egypt and Israel.

An agreement at the summit will be mostly symbolic, sending a strong message to China and North Korea. It will also be significant in that it sends a message to the progressive opposition groups in South Korea that even if there is a change of government in the country in the future, the partnership among Washington, Tokyo and Seoul will continue whether they like it or not.

Naturally, this is taking place amid a background of rapid change in the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in East Asia.

The Biden administration must have decided at this point that further strengthening of deterrence against revisionists who wish to change the status quo by force is indispensable. If so, the Japanese and South Koreans must continue to improve ties and reconcile toward a more mature relationship, no matter where they may be.

While division in America’s domestic politics continues to grow, the saving grace is that its diplomacy remains a unifying force.