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Japanese media weigh in on the U.S. election

In one of those only-in-Japan type of stories, Shukan Jitsuwa (Nov. 26) describes Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in this month’s U.S. presidential election as analogous to the present situation in professional sumo.

It seems that for the second tournament in a row, two Mongolian-born veteran grand champions, Hakuho and Kakuryu (both age 35), remained sidelined due to injuries, while continuing to draw generous salaries.

“Japanese embrace the esthetics of isagiyosa (resolute resignation or manliness) and hikigiwa (knowing when to quit),” an unnamed sumo journalist tells the magazine. “But these attributes are completely lacking in both of them.

“Like Trump, who refuses to acknowledge his defeat, they will never announce retirement of their own volition,” the writer says. “So rectifying the situation will fall upon the two wrestlers’ stablemasters or Yokozuna Deliberation Council (the powerful committee that advises the Japan Sumo Association).”

Shukan Shincho (Nov. 19), arguably the most conservative of the established weekly magazines, featured five short articles under the headline “The final scenario that remains for Trump to pull off a major win-from-behind victory.”

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According to reports from Georgia, Biden’s lead was only 1,500 votes, a margin of 0.2%. State law in such cases requires a recount. Other battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Arizona also went to Biden by very thin margins and recounts cannot be ruled out.

Two decades ago, when the results in Florida were disputed in the 2000 presidential election, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled against a recount, giving the state’s electoral votes — and the election — to George W. Bush.

This year, the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and 11th-hour appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett may be considered a strategic move on Trump’s part. Will the nation’s top court be called upon to decide again?

Should Trump somehow manage to pull off an upset victory, the writer comments, the “Trump theater” will certainly have lived up to its reputation. If Trump’s gambits fail, on the other hand, Shukan Shincho notes in the follow-up article, there’s a strong likelihood he’ll be facing litigation and possibly even arrest for his shady financial dealings.

Writing in Shukan Bunshun (Nov. 19), commentator Akira Ikegami, who might best be described as Japan’s most prominent “media explainer,” starts his column by stating, “Well, a red mirage appeared.” The “red mirage,” he explains, was Trump’s early lead in some of the states that led many to conclude he would be re-elected. Then the tallying of mail-in ballots shifted the battleground states into the blue column.

Ikegami recalled four years earlier, when, asked by a fellow commentator Yoko Oshita during a broadcast of TV Asahi’s “Wide Scramble” show to predict the 2016 winner, he replied, “I have absolutely no idea.” This time Oshita was more insistent.

“Who’s going to win?” Oshita asked. “You’ve got to give me a prediction.”

“It’s a tough one to call, but I think Biden’s going to win,” Ikegami responded.

Normally after U.S. elections, Ikegami explains, the common practice is for losing candidates to make a congratulatory call to their opponent, and then inform this action to their assembled supporters.

“Trump’s refusal to concede underscores how far America’s political divisions have worsened over the past four years,” Ikegami says. “Trump calls news he doesn’t like ‘fake’ and denounces CNN reporters as ‘enemies of the people.’

“Trump fires noncompliant staff, not dismissing them directly but by announcing it on Twitter. There’s nothing ruder than this. I suppose he doesn’t have courage to fire them directly.”

Ikegami was also critical of Trump’s fleeing to a bunker during a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the White House, and his tacit acknowledgements of conspiracy theories such as QAnon, which maintains his presidential authority is being undermined by shadowy pedophile opponents lurking in the “deep state,” who control the media.

“Trump’s supporters make outlandish assertions that fly in the face of common sense,” Ikegami says. “Biden may have been elected, but it won’t be easy to repair the rifts that have widened over the past four years.”

Nikkan Gendai (Nov. 13) devoted a full page to an interview with international journalist Mikio Haruna, who remarked that the energy source of Trump supporters seems to be contradictory, made up on the one hand of disenfranchised members of the middle class, many of whom are white, facing reduced economic circumstances through widening economic disparity, and, on the other hand, of high-income earners who have benefited from generous tax reductions.

In terms of future Japan-U.S. relations, Haruna believes that the Foreign Ministry and State Department will revert to a “honeymoon” status under a Biden administration.

“The Japan specialists in the State Department kept silent to avoid antagonizing Trump,” he says. “But they will recover their power under Biden. So in that context I suppose relations will stabilize. But Japan can’t maintain its dependence on America forever, and we’ll need to be vigilant. Actually, during Trump’s tenure we had a chance to completely rework the Japan-U.S. relationship. But instead, Japan engaged in omotenashi (hospitality-oriented) diplomacy. That is something to regret.”

Meanwhile, Friday (Nov. 20) airs concerns that if the transition is prolonged, China might exploit America’s political leadership gap and target territory claimed by Japan.

“President Trump’s unpredictable personality may have restrained China’s moves in East Asia, out of fears Trump might do anything to please his supporters,” says journalist Toshihiro Yamada. “So until the next president is decided, the political vacuum would raise the possibility China will become emboldened.”

A U.S. political stalemate could easily spill over to this part of the world, military affairs journalist Mitsuhiro Sera tells the magazine.

“Were the U.S. to plunge into civil unrest, with no president and commander-in-chief, U.S. forces overseas would be hamstrung,” Sera says. “Concurrent with taking possession of Taiwan, it wouldn’t be strange to see China act on its claims and seize the Senkaku Islands.”

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

  • President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have both claimed victory in the U.S. election. | REUTERS

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