Parallel Between ’16 US Election and ’08 & ’12 South Korean Election


There has been a lot of this-and-that regarding Donald Trump being the new US president. Many, especially Americans, say they didn’t see it coming.  But for me, a South Korean who grew up in rust belt states, I could see it a bit. If I could have voted for the election, I probably would’ve gone for Hillary Clinton. But then, Trump’s victory wasn’t that surprising to me. I understand why people still voted for Trump, even if he made so much homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynist comments and has several sexual assault charges. Simple answer: people were so goddamn sick of the old politics because nothing is being done (or seems like) and they desperately wanted something new.

How do I know this? Because the ’08 and ’12 South Korean election were very similar to ’16 US election. Let me fill you in on that.

As of ’08, we had two consecutive liberal party administrations. By then, people were frustrated. They voted for the liberal party hoping for a good change. But it seems like nothing being done, despite more taxes. No dramatic improvements on whatsoever, being too soft and still paying to North Korea who keeps developing bombs making threats (there has been at least two incidents where the South Korean and North Korean navy actually had battle), so on. People started to feel that “those at the parliament are all same bastards!”

Then comes a candidate from a conservative party – Lee Myoung Bak (MB). He is a self-made man, who started from the bottom and later became a CEO of a big real estate company. He was a mayor and did several things well. Hey, a successful businessman who isn’t really from old boy’s club! He’s gonna run the country like no one else did before! He promised to have 5%-7% annual economic growth, decrease unemployment rate, invest a lot on new development plans and build canals. I guess some really believed his promises, but at least half didn’t  there wasn’t any clear explanation on how he would do it. But he still was elected.

Why? Because (1) he was still a new, fresh face, while the liberal party candidate was “same old,” and (2) liberal party did pretty bad campaign. And old politics have failed people so many times. What’s to lose by voting something completely new? So he was elected.

Was he a great president? Like many things in life, there are goods and bads. Did South Korea really have 5-7% annual economic growth? Not really. Did unemployment rate improve? Not really. He built canals which really no one cared, and now it has more loss than gains in many ways.

During his administration, a lot of his colleagues/family/friends were involved in embezzlement scandals. His son-in-law was accused of embezzlement/paper company and tax evasion/duty of care issues. His wife was suspected of embezzlement. His brother was accused of power abuse. Nothing really ended clearly because he’s the president.

Fast forward, the ’12 election started. The conservative party had a woman candidate – Park Geun Hye. A daughter of ’70’s controversial dictator. The liberal party had same old. Many expected liberal party would win, because people were upset on all that scandals from Lee’s administration. When the results came out, by small margin, Park won. Analyzing why Park won and why the other candidate lost by small margin is not really relevant here, so I’ll skip that. But, just like ’16 US election, that was the worst election ever. It was the most divisive election in the country’s history. God only knows how many people had family fight over the dinner table. The election really built a wall between people in their 40’s or less and over 50. People did not vote because they support a certain candidate: people casted their vote because they hated both, but hated one less than another.

For the past two conservative administrations, the so-called alt-right group started rising (in Japan, too!). You know, bashing women, immigrants, left/progressive parties, etc. When they first appeared, people brushed them off as “idiots” and said “we should not pay attention to them.” Then the conservative party started to feed them. Not as blatantly as Trump did, but they did by giving some subtle signs. Then they came out to the street with pickets. They became visible.

I personally would have supported Clinton, but like I said, as someone who grew up in rust belt and went through two very similar elections, I get the sentiment for voting for Trump. I don’t believe that people voted for Trump just because they wanted to say racist things out loud, grab women by pu**y in open daylight or harass immigrants/foreigners. It was frustration with old politics and people really had enough of that. What shocked me was, I thought there was a solid social agreement in America that sexist/racist/bullying comments in official places are not allowed in any way, but I guess it wasn’t that solid. I don’t know – extreme time needs extreme measures?

I’m no oracle, but for the coming Trump administration, I won’t be surprised if any of the following things happen, which already happened in South Korea:

  • There will be some kind of embezzlement/duty of care/power abuse scandal involving Trump or his family, sooner or later.

His family members played a big role in his campaign. They are likely to be the force behind in many things for his administration. Generally, if a man gets a power and his family are still working with him, corruption/bribery is very likely.

  • Massive construction/development plans

He is real estate developer, and this can be actually good for the USA! I like USA but except some cities, the infrastructure in general is just ugh.

  • Alt-rights will be there for years

The alt-rights are somewhat losing power in Japan and Korea recently, but once they are fed or receives a sign that government kind of agrees with them, they will grow and grow. So even if Trump is gone after serving four years, alt-right will be there. For years.

  • People will learn business ≠ politics.

    It’s very easy to associate running country is like running a business. I guess that can be true if you are running a country like North Korea or Turkmenistan, but in democratic country, that is not true. We learned it in hard way. In business, your goal is to maximize your profit. For that goal, if you are the boss, you can plan in any way you want, and sack anyone you don’t like/agree with. In democratic country, that just can’t be done. The goal is settlement and safety, and you can’t really alienate anyone in the process. Sometimes you are forced to enter a deal that is “loss” but good for the safety of everyone.

Just my 2 cents.

About ceberus

Have South Korean passport, looks like South Korean, speaks fluent Korean, working at South Korea yet grew up in Midwestern American and spent one year in Japan. Probably looks like Korean and speaks fluent Korean but thinks like American. Lost in translation. TCK/CCK.

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