Tuesday, September 24, 2019

On Impeachment Eve

I still need to finish the last part of the Nine Years of Darkness series. But hearing the news that Nancy Pelosi finally greenlighted an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, I thought it would be fitting to share an excerpt of writing by Cheon Gwan-yul [천관율]. Cheon, a journalist for a South Korean magazine SisaIn, has been the sharpest observer of the political landscape leading up to Park Geun-hye's impeachment in 2017.

Cheon Gwan-yul (source)

To set the stage first: Cheon was writing this on November 12, 2016.  Trump had been elected four days previous, and the public sentiment against Park's corruption scandal was reaching its peak. Two weeks prior to this date, Park Geun-hye appeared on a press conference to admit that she indeed let Choi Soon-sil, daughter of the shaman who claimed to speak with Park's dead mother, review and edit presidential speeches. The Candlelight Protests had been ongoing for several weeks with an average crowd size of a million or more people. Impeachment was not yet a certainty; Park hinted that she might be open to resigning, and there was real doubt on whether there were enough votes for an impeachment motion.

This writing was a lengthy post on Cheon's Facebook, which I read in real time. (It later became a part of the opening essay for his book on the impeachment.) It was shared more than 8,000 times, and "liked" more than 3,000 times. Since then, I have read it many times over, marveling at how well Cheon Gwan-yul's observations have held up, and how applicable this is to Trump as well. 

Below, I translate the relevant portion.

*                               *                               *

The President Will Not Resign

If the president were the type of leader who considered the future of [her] Saenuri Party or the possibility of a conservative resurrection, she might choose to fall on the sword. Her resignation would turn the tide like few other actions could.

But our president is a highly privatized person. Unlike her predecessor [Lee Myung-bak] who was diligent in pursuing his private interest, she simply makes no distinction between her public life and her private life. (In contrast, Lee had an excellent sense of distinguishing the public from the private, such that he could smoothly transfer resources from the public to the private.) This is a level of privitizing power that we have never seen before.

. . .

To a privitized president, the family business is the only remaining objective. [Emphasis mine.] Minimizing the possibility of ending up in prison; securing the lightest sentences for key figures around her; preserving her wealth as much as possible. These are higher priorities than the party's resuscitation and the future of conservatism.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

There Will be a Stalemate

With any other politician, there would have existed the room for compromise--but not with this president. A privitized leader is not bound by a sense of responsibility; she only seeks to protect the family business. For the party on the offensive, there is no middle point to meet. The president only wants one thing, but there is no way to give that to her.

The president has the constitutional legitimacy of the Republic. She's not a leader of a coup d'etat. If she chooses to give up on restoring support, abdicate from governing, and lock herself into a room, there are few ways to get her out. And it's easily imaginable that she would choose this path.

The privitized president will lead us into a stalemate. The pressure from the streets and the legislature will remain high, but she has no room to take a step back. And we are clearly not in the situation to forcibly foreclose on the president's constitutional legitimacy.

The President Will Not Change; Those Around Her May

If my analysis is correct that the president is privitized, the protests, no matter how large, do not change her calculation. Protests work by pressuring the leader's sense of responsibility owed to the public; this president does not have that. The protests do not apply pressure to the family business, the president's sole objective. Therefore, the protests will not change the president's calculus.

But that is not the case with the outside power structure that surrounds the president. They have no reason to share the president's fate, or to sacrifice themselves to save the president's family business. Currently, the president has in her hand two power structures: the prosecutors, and the Saenuri Party. Even after the president departs, they must continue living. To them, the size of the protests applies pressure.

It may be possible for a whistleblower to emerge out of the prosecutors and further sway the public opinion, or for the Grand National Party to begin fracturing as it faces the next election. In such a case, their cost of protecting the president changes. This may be the path that breaks the stalemate.

. . .

Candlelight Protest of Nov. 12, 2016 (source)

What do the Protests Accomplish?

On the heels of Donald Trump's election, there has been an explosion of hate crimes. Through Trump's election, the energy of hate--which was suppressed in the popular culture--acquired an important realization: we are the majority. I thought I was alone, but half the country thinks the way I do. Those who wanted to freely hate people of different races, religion and sexual identity became aware of one another's existence. I know you exist, and you know I know you exist. The people who are connected through this sense of mutuality become much stronger and bolder.

The sense of mutuality is very difficult to cultivate. There must be a chain: I must know that you agree with me, and that there are many of you; you must know that I am emboldened through this knowledge of you; I must know, in turn, that you are excited by this knowledge of me. The sense of mutuality does not emerge simply because a million people watch the same news. There is no way for one person to know if the other 999,999 people watched the same news, and felt the same way I did.

But a protest with a million participants accomplishes this. A protest is an excellent factory to produce a sense of mutuality. Just as soon as they share the same space, the participants instantaneously progress through this chain of knowledge and acquire the sense of mutuality. This is why people get together to watch football in the public square although they have big screen TVs at home. This is why they prefer to stand in the same physical space despite living in a hyper-connected, online society.

Power does not fear the lead pipe swung against the police. But people connecting with one another and confirming one another's existence send chills down the spine of power. Now [with the Candlelight Protests], the power faces the severe pressure to change the status quo. If you asked me what the protests accomplish, this would be my answer.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. I'm curious what gives you optimism that Trump will ultimately be removed from office at the end of this process? I can't help but feel some resignation that this will all be moot because it just isn't plausible that 20 Republican senators will suddenly grow a spine, make a real stand against this president, and seriously jeopardize their political careers in the process.

    A secret vote seems like a non-starter as McConnell will make sure current Senate rules requiring open votes for impeachment remain in place. The only path forward then seems to be a significant segment of the Republican base somehow turning on Trump. How can that happen when they simply ignore or dismiss as fake-news-deep-state-conspiracy every evidence of Trump's wrongdoings and incompetence?

    I don't wanna be a downer, but man, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    1. Koreans felt the exact way as of mid-2016. Events have a way of surprising people.

    2. Koreans also didn't believe their nation's division would last 70 years and going strong. US politics are too polarized and tribal today. Republican Senate will never impeach him because the establishment Republicans hate the left and Democrats more than they despise Trump. The feelings are mutual from Democrats on Trump, right and the Republicans. Only way Trump leaves the presidency is to be voted out in 2020, termed out in 2024, or dies.

  2. Joel Monkarsh, jm8257@gmail.com - Your policy says to comment only using non-hotmail email, but I haven't found your email address by which I could send an email. Since I have nothing to hide, let me comment on the impeachment of Uncle Donald and ask for some assistance for a Korean friend. First of all, I'm a former Republican and although I think that starting the impeachment inquiry about the Orange Turd is the right thing to do and I wish the folks who want to remove the creature who is polluting the Oval Office well, I don't believe there will be 2/3 of the Senate to remove the creature, because most of the Republican there are gutless wonders.

    My Korean friend, a professor at a well known public university wants to set up some sort of program by which kindergarten and possibly elementary school students will be taught some basic cooking along with some basic English.

    I replied that it is probably a viable idea, but she should check with Korean Immigration first, because they will explain how to write up the job specifications so that the foreigners they want to hire for this do not get deported by Korean Immigration and the university with whom this will be affiliated will not get in hot water.

    Whomever sets this up needs to make sure whether the foreigners would be eligible for E1, E2, or E7 visas, and whether those foreigners can simply get written approval from their current visa sponsors to let them do this. I am being cautious, because of a remember the case of the foreign employees at a legitimate Canadian school in Korea who ended up getting deported when they were teaching English through history and subjects not related to history.

    Here's the article about the school where teachers were deported https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2019/02/181_228730.html

    British Columbia-authorized school in Seoul to shut downPosted : 2017-05-03 15:57Updated : 2017-05-03 19:37

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  5. Haven't seen my favorite observers of Korean affairs comment on this related topic, marshal law plans on the eve of Park Geun-hye's impeachment. http://civilizationdiscontents.blogspot.com/2019/10/hwang-kyo-ahn-doubles-down.html

    ...The official National Security Council documents are circumstantial evidence that the then acting president and prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, had knowledge of the plans, and perhaps as acting chair of the NSC, played a role in their formulation. Hwang has made flat denials of any knowledge of such preparations for the implementation of martial law to save the conservative administration. At the time, democratic opposition protesters were carrying out massive demonstrations in Gwanghwamun and other locations in South Korea during the pendency of the Park Geun-hye impeachment process. Other observers have attempted to belittle the significance of the martial law plans, suggesting that at worst, they were only contingency plans to deal with public disorder rather than a coup d'etat to overthrow the constitutional order. It is not clear what happened during the very last days preceding the conviction of Park Geun-hye by the Constitutional Court. The critical witness to the formulation of the martial law plans, and their potential execution was the commander of the Defense Security Command, Cho Hyun-cheon ( 조현천 기무사령관 ). He was the key person involved in their development. It is important to note in this regard, that the same role was played by former president Chun Du-won as the Defense Security Command commander after the assassination of Park Chung-hee (Park Geun-hye's father) forty years earlier after the fall of the Yushin Constitution. The coup planning DSC commander Cho Hyun-cheon, in question now, fled South Korea, and his whereabouts are allegedly unknown...

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