Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Days Ahead

Protest in Seoul for Park Geun-hye's resignation, Nov. 5, 2016. Estimated 100,000 participated in the protest.

I have been very wrong on so many things about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But one of the few things I was right about was: Korean politics tend to foreshadow U.S. politics.

Korean politics has been making worldwide headline in the last few days because of the insane scandal that a psychic has been practically controlling its president. (I did my part to contribute to those headlines.) But Korean politics was not always this way. Just nine years ago—or two presidents ago, Korea’s president was a progressive Roh Moo-hyun, an articulate, charismatic president who rose from modest background based on legal education, not unlike our current president. And just like Republicans did against Barack Obama, Korea’s conservatives seized on the fact that Roh was from modest background to delegitimize him nearly as soon as he took office. After Roh, Koreans elected two conservative presidents who might as well be Donald Trump Part I and Donald Trump Part II. First it was Lee Myung-bak, whose main qualification was that he was a former CEO of Hyundai. Then it was Park Geun-hye, whose main qualification was that she was the daughter of the former dictator Park Chung-hee. There was no question that nostalgia played a huge role in electing both presidents. By electing two symbols of Korea’s fast-growing economy of the 1960s and 70s, Korea’s conservatives were trying to make Korea great again.

I have seen the future, where the population was so beholden to nostalgia that they not only set aside democratic norms, but also overlooked the obvious incompetence of the candidates who would become the president. This was true of Lee Myung-bak, who ruthlessly controlled the media and harassed the journalists that were critical to him. But this was—and is—even truer of Park Geun-hye, who inherited all the flaws of her father and none of his strengths. As a presidential candidate, Park roundly lost all three of her televised debate against her opponent Moon Jae-in, a National Assemblyman and former chief of staff for Roh Moo-hyun. She could hardly articulate her own thoughts in words and obsessively relied on her pocket notebook for rehearsed talking points prepared by her father’s former cronies. No matter—she was elected anyway. Same with Trump, following Obama. The flaws were obvious, but he was elected anyway. So here we are.

I have seen the future. So allow me to share what lies in the days ahead.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

First of all, I wish the next administration well. I really do, because I have seen the terrible cost when the chief executive is corrupt and incompetent. But based on what I have seen, I learned not to hope that the person who becomes the president will be somehow different from the person who was the candidate. After Park was elected, many Koreans—even those who opposed her—projected their hopes on her, despite all the previous indications to the contrary. Perhaps she will be more committed to democracy than her father. Perhaps she may be able to dialogue with North Korea based on her strong conservative support. Perhaps she is sharper than she lets on based on her words. None of these projections came true. We knew who Park Geun-hye was before she became the president. She remained being the same person, and governed accordingly. Likewise, we know what kind of person Donald Trump is. I won’t bother repeating what we all know. I will only say that he, too, can be expected to govern in a way that a person like him will govern. 

This means that many things done by our government will stop making sense. There will be less transparency in the government, which makes its actions more difficult to understand. Less transparency breeds incompetence. In Korea, the government that ably handled the worst oil spill in Korean history and the worldwide SARS epidemic suddenly bumbled around as the ferry Sewol sank with 300 school children and MERS claimed dozens of lives. In the context of the United States, this may mean going from the response to Hurricane Sandy to the response to Hurricane Katrina.

The many promises that Donald Trump made will not be kept. Not even the promises he made to his most ardent supporters. This is because presidents cannot change the external conditions of the world that constrain their action. During her campaign, Park Geun-hye promised a universal $200 a month pension for the elderly, her most dedicated supporters, without raising taxes. The opposition during the campaign repeatedly pointed out that such a policy could not happen without a massive tax increase. Sure enough, after she was elected, Park broke both of her promises: she raised taxes, and only modestly increased the elderly pension that previously existed. You can take a wild guess as to how she handled the promises that she made to the constituents that disfavored her. Likewise, the external conditions that face the Trump administration will not change. Global trade can be cut back somehow, but can never be reduced enough to bring those jobs back to America. You can deport thousands, but not 11 million. 

Facing the challenge of keeping the promises he made and failing at doing so, Trump will—as Lee Myung-bak did—attempt to distract his supporters by persecuting his political opponents. Lee hounded his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun based on a tendentious corruption charge until he drove Roh into committing suicide. Park Geun-hye continued the trend by suing to forcibly disband the Unified Progressive Party, claiming that the UPP was a shill for North Korea. More significantly, the winner’s vengeance will not be limited to those at the top. Those who were the most vulnerable will be even more exposed. This is the point that truly breaks my heart the most, because this truly is the ultimate cost of authoritarianism. In some cases, the state kills the dissenters directly, as Park Geun-hye administration did earlier this year when it aimed a water cannon to a protestor’s head and killed him. More frequently, the state will simply stand by and let the private violence take place. Just two years ago in Korea, a young right-winger threw a bomb during a speech given by a leftist Korean American activist, a political terrorism of the kind that Korea has not seen in decades. Park Geun-hye administration gave suspended sentence to the bomb-thrower, and deported the activist for engaging in subversive speech. We have already seen how Trump and his supporters treat dissenters. Expect more of that, more widespread. Considering that U.S. is a more violent society than Korea, I truly fear for the safety of those who are the most exposed—racial minorities, religious minorities, immigrants (which includes me and my family.) When violence is inflicted upon them, upon us, don’t expect the public authorities to act very quickly, or act at all. The laws will not necessarily go away, but they will bend as much as they can to stop the progress of those in the disfavored class of people.

Finally, opposition politics will be very painful to watch. There will be much infighting and factional tension, because one of the first human instincts after suffering a devastating loss to blame your own teammates. Some will argue doubling down the core liberal values, while others will argue for reaching across the aisle. The former will call the latter sellouts; the latter will call the former dumb hippies. The infighting will become so nasty and tiresome that many who would otherwise sympathize with the opposition will tune out politics altogether. The progressive infighting in Korea came to a point where the main opposition party split into two. As a result, even as Park Geun-hye is going through what may be the political scandal of the century, there is a real chance that the opposition parties may not take advantage of the damage that she has caused to her party and Korea’s conservatives. At this moment, the Democratic Party’s future does not appear much better.

*                             *                             *

Now, for the hopeful part.

Korea’s democracy is only 30 years old. It is in a standoff with nuclear North Korea. And for the last four years, it had a feeble-minded, incompetent president who was being controlled by a fucking psychic, who freely browsed state secret and extorted tens of millions of dollars by threatening to sack the CEOs of privately held companies.

Yet Korea endured. Seoul is still vibrant, Korean cars and electronics continue to sell, and Korea still held free and fair elections. It truly breaks my heart that the following may not apply to those in the margins, or those who bravely stood up to the authoritarianism of Korea’s past two administrations. But for most Korean people, life went on as it did before, albeit under an oppressive cloud of consternation. Just as much as a president cannot single-handedly wish away the external conditions, a president cannot single-handedly disrupt everyone’s life. The best he could do is to redraw the marginal line, and let everyone outside of it fall away. That is a terrible, terrible thing, but not the same thing as the end of the Republic.

A bad administration does cause severe, lasting damage, and the people who voted in the bad administration will tolerate those damages—but only up to a point. At some point, the civil society does kick in. There does come a point where everything unravels for an incompetent, corrupt administration, if only because the power of the plain truth becomes undeniable. Do not despair that Trump’s supporters do not care about the truth; the same used to be said about Park Geun-hye’s supporters, who supposedly formed a “concrete floor” of approval ratings. After the scandal with Choi Soon-sil was revealed, Park’s approval rating hit 5 percent, the lowest in Korean democratic history. Never underestimate the people’s ability to act when the right facts are in front of them. Then oh—you will see a wave of resistance like the kind you have never seen before.

This is a thin hope, I know. For those in the margins, for those who are unlucky, this is not much of anything. But this is what lies ahead. Expect darkness that will get darker, until the daylight finally breaks through. Until then, protect each other from the worst individual consequences, while acting together against the worst societal consequences. Pray, and be hopeful that this, too, shall end. Better days are ahead, even though it may not seem like it now.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Thanks for the perspective, TK. I've been under the assumption that we are living through the decline of the American empire, and I feel the election of Trump is one more sign of this. But what's done is done.

    My only advice to Americans, particularly minorities, is to buy a gun just in case (at least Trump and the Republicans won't implement more gun control). Americans will turn on the Muslims and illegal immigrant population first, and we may be next. It's happened twice before and we'd be naive to think it wouldn't ever happen again. Who would have predicted it be necessary in LA in Apr, 1992? Just a thought. Our country has rabies.

  2. Thank you for this. As a Korean American I am still reeling from the shock of Park Geun-Hye's dangerous idiocy and now am facing four years of an even more virulent, hateful level of incompetence in the US government. All we can do is mobilize and work to protect the most vulnerable among us.

  3. This! Thank you TK, if Korea can do it, we can too!

  4. Hi, i am a moslem.
    This is also happening in America (very soon), because Donald Trump has become a President. But i believe in God there will be nothing happened. Even the the chance of worst thing will happen is bigger.

  5. "We have already seen how Trump and his supporters treat dissenters."

    First of all, I don't live in USA. Couldn't vote, wouldn't have voted, if I voted, wouldn't have voted Trump.

    But to be frank, how Trump and his supporters treated "dissenters" was downright gracious compared to what the other side treated them. I'm not going to say Hillary Clinton supporters. I belive more accurate would be anti-Hitler-the-sequel-as-they-see-it.

    I'm not going to even elaborate on the everyday social media or real life shunning and hounding for just mentioning Trump supporters had reasons to vote for him other than pure misogyny and racism, or the numerous cases of vandalism of property for having Trump signs or bumper stickers.

    How about the times Trump supporters were beaten up by masses of organized rioters, the most glaring one being in San Jose?

    That was far worse than anything I saw from Trump supporters, all of which I've seen happened to be just one or few individuals getting into brawls. And the city's mayor had the gall to blame Trump's "rhetoric" for the violence, rather than condemning the mob.

    How about Trump's actual attempted assassination from that mentally unbalanced Brit? Or GOP offices firebombed? (And before someone brings up the arson on that church, I would bet good money whoever that set a church and fire and write on the walls "Vote Trump" doesn't actually want people to "Vote Trump", but instead wanted media coverage for his acts).

    What the media and the "other side" did was not just call Trump a populist demagogue with regressive views. They basically called him Hitler #2. Hilary called Trump supporters "deplorables", racists and misogynists, when many were just desperate people who were desperate for any change . It was justifiable to use violence against Hitler #2 and Hitler #2 supporters without any guilt, and any violence against them was never as widely covered as the one committed by them.

    And you see the result. Even as the shaming and violence silenced the Trump supporters when they were polled, it galvanized to them vote. So you have wildly inaccurate polls and a President Trump. I worry for the state of the world, but I can't say I don't feel a slight joy for smug liberals crying and gnashing their teeth about "How, HOW did the racist and misogynistic mob elected President Trump!? Only if we shamed them and beat them up harder!"

    1. I agree... and here we were, SO worried about how Trump supporters would react to the certain Clinton victory. The hate and division that Trump preaches is in NO way okay, but in the last 2 days I have seen liberals or even just any sort of anti-Trump folk reacting in some of the most immature and heinous ways that I've seen this entire election season. I wish they would take a moment to realize that they are acting just as intolerant and bigoted as those they are rioting against. I've already seen a number of facebook friends take down some really uncharacteristically toxic posts that they wrote in the heat of the moment on election night, and I'm glad they did. (Oh, all those embarrassing Open Letters To America.) At the end of the day, everyone is the same. We are all equally capable of evil as we are of good, and it would be foolish and prideful for us to think that we are above wrongdoings. I don't know how we can help everyone move forward, and I don't want to dismiss those who are genuinely upset and grieving. However violence and hatred is not the answer, I know that for sure. I am truly hoping and praying for greater understanding and empathy within this country.

    2. Yes, Trump supporters are bastions of tolerance and peace.

      And yes, a number of those incidents involved groups of Trump supporters assaulting protestors.

    3. Never said they were bastions of tolerance and peace. I said relative to the anti-Trumpers, they were. I went through all of your link spam, and I don't see anything nearly as bad as San Jose riots, after which the city's mayor blamed the victims.

    4. The KKK publicly endorsed him, his voters are people who after months of listening to his hateful rhetoric about minorities and sexual assaults allegations (not to mention the things he admitted to such as walking into room of young beauty queen pageants while they're dressing) still chose to put their needs above safety of their neighbors by electing him, his first Tweet after becoming president-elect is about how the protesters are paid and incited by the media,all of this and you think his opposition was wrong to link him to Hitler? Hitler was democratically elected on the wave of indignant white anger...much like what occurred just this week. If his opposition acted out, it's because we're in literal fear for our lives.

      So bless you for taking that small joy because you've the privilege of not living here.

    5. I'm sure some members of KKK like sugar too. Should everybody go on a sugar-free diet now?

      So you "fear for our lives?" Who's we? I'm going to take a stab and guess you're Korean in ethnicity due to your user name, like I am. Do you think the orange bewigged bogeyman will command his stormtroopers to burst in and kill all minorities, including Asians? I've seen many people talking as if Trumpler is personally going to kill them, and so far, I've seen only one person out of dozens who's even close to being justified in that belief: a guy with stage 4 cancer whose health insurance may be affected.

      This is a huge reason why Trump won. The left exaggerated and focused on things irrelevant to the personal lives of a large part of the population, like Trump's racism and sexism (even as the Democrats ran a candidate who allegedly abetted her husband, who was arguably accused of worse in the sex crimes department, though he was a pretty good pres otherwise.)

      A lot of white people simply don't care about that, mostly because they have bigger things to worry about and it won't affect them personally, and a tiny bit because some fraction of them are racist/misogynistic. It's true, banning Muslims from immigrating aren't going to affect white people personally, and Trump's not going to personally come pussy-grab them or somebody they know.

      So you condemn them for "putting their needs above safety of their neighbors", calling people who voted Trump for economical reasons racists/sexists who are personally complicit in endangering the lives of those poor minorities. How are those minorities in fear for their lives? What do you think Trump will do? At the absolute worst, he's going to appoint supreme court justices, repeal ACA, make it harder to get abortions and make it harder for some to immigrate etc. etc. Is not being able to immigrate to the US really that much worse than losing your livelihood, losing your house, and seeing your town die because of closing coal mines and factories?

      Obviously, Trump lied and he won't be able to revive those towns. Automation, changes in energy sources, and globalization make it impossible. But anti-Trumpers didn't focus on that fact. They didn't focus on how dumb Trump's planned tax policies are, nor how catastrophic his climate-change stances are, nor numerous other things that could have affected the white voters personally.

      They had to focus on pointless identity politics and ostracizing and beating people up for daring to care more about themselves and their families than people different from them, like EVERY human does.

      And of course making excuses for rioters getting horrifically violent over what is basically opinions they don't like, like you and the San Jose mayor did, because those opinions are icky. All that seemed to have worked out swimmingly for the Democrats and the world.

      And yes, I do think it's wrong to compare Trump to Hitler. Why? Because Trump tweeted bad things, maybe groped people, and will enact conservative policies, and Hitler butchered more than 11 million.

    6. Do you think the orange bewigged bogeyman will command his stormtroopers to burst in and kill all minorities, including Asians?

      More likely, the racist president will stand by and do nothing while racists go out to harass and kill minorities. That's starting to happen already.

    7. T.K.: That is a ridiculous assertion and I'm going to wait for your re-assertion that the United States has elected a literal Hitler in a few years when that myth has been thoroughly debunked by that period. I say this as a Korean-American, BTW, and I agree largely with ledtim's points - by refusing to see past the mainstream media propaganda and distruth about Trump only enabled his victory. Hopefully your side will self-reflect and correct itself by 2020, but I am not hopeful on that given how the political left in this country has been reacting to Trump's legitimate Presidential victory.

    8. Dumbasses say what now? What was that?

      God, I hope you people fall off the train while you're being shipped to your internment camps.

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  7. Sorry but Roh Moohyun was a useless president. Many civil servants hated him anf it seems ideology rather than ability reigned.

  8. TK, many of your other posts are well written but this is a bit amateur and very biased.
    You make a lot of assumptions that many pseudo-intellectual 1st year college kids make.

    1. Do you actually think Trump is going to be as crazy as the mainstream media made him out to be? I personally think he is a bit of a doofus and inarticulate, but by no means have I fallen for the complete bias with which the far-left media has portrayed him. He is a populist and deal-maker and will do a lot better than people's media-corrupted expectations. Wall St seems to agree with the Dow hitting record highs.
    Racist? First of all, his team was half African American. Second, he simply wants to secure the borders as any sovereign nation should. 11 million will not be deported, however criminals will be as they should. When did it become racist to support legal immigration by trying to curb illegal immigration. People are sick and tired of the intolerant-left always calling anyone who has a different opinion as racist, misogynist, homophobic, etc. It's the same old tactic of label, divide and get votes.
    2. Your praise of Roh Moohyun is also ridiculous. He was just as bad or worse than the other presidents, especially as he ran with the promise of being clean and against corruption. We all know what happened after that. In fact, President Park's scandal is actually less corrupt as she seems to be more of a puppet rather than a beneficiary unlike Roh and his family members.
    Your comparison of Park and Trump doesn't quite work like you wish it did. Actually Roh and Trump are more alike as they were both "outsiders" and change candidates. Moreover, Hillary and Park are similar in that they are ultimate insiders only having legitimacy because of famous family members, not to mention their email scandals.

    Again, I think your other articles are decently done, but your prediction of the future is so dead wrong on this. Actually the path that the far-left democrats were taking the US was towards Europe, which is a complete and utter failure. France, Spain, Greece, Italy etc. will have their children living economically worse of than their parents. Irresponsible liberal policies will leave the next generation suffering under debt and non-competitivness with the rest of the world, particularly Asia. Trump and his team are not perfect, but at least they understand this and will try to turn around the sinking ship.

  9. 'At the end of the day, everyone is the same. We are all equally capable of evil as we are of good, and it would be foolish and prideful for us to think that we are above wrongdoings.'
    Thank you for those words, Mr. Park. I am also praying for peace, but I find myself waiting a mob to come to my door.
    This election has made me ashamed to even call myself American. Neither major party candidate had all the qualities I was looking for in a leader of my country. Neither did the 3rd party. For the first, and I hope, only time in my life, I chose 'other' on the ballot and wrote in a name. My voice with a single ballot was small, but at least it was true. I expected some dissent whatever the outcome, but the daily barrage of violence, snide commentary, and propaganda thinly veneered by the media has pretty much destroyed any faith and trust I have had left after 40 plus years as a registered voter. I view with dismay the wary stance I must take nowadays; I feel like I must dress in duns, walk armed with sword & dagger, and proclaim 'I have no friends' when asked in the streets in my once-fair Verona; I wonder if I will be the Mercutio in this feud of Montagues and Capulets? My world seems to be awash in Tybalts, eager for a taste of blood, any blood, that is not Capulet...and I am not Capulet. Or Montague.

  10. Another useless brainwashed Communist.


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