Teaching the American Gun Debate in a Foreign Country: No Matter What You Say, They Think We’re Bananas

Officers stand near a memorial of flowers at the scene of the mass shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on 25 MayUS politics is part of my teaching load here in Korea. And part of that is, inevitably, the US gun debate. Foreigners just don’t get the US fascination with guns at all, and that is putting it mildly.

I have lived outside the US for almost 18 years – in East Asia and Western Europe – and I have discussed guns in America with non-Americans countless times given that my area is political science. Non-Americans are genuinely curious why we allow private fire arm ownership, especially when it so obviously correlates with gun violence. I can say that I have never had a non-American ever tell me they wished their country had US gun laws. Not one.

I have written a lot on foreign perceptions of US gun ownership on Twitter in the last two days. Try this, this, this, this, and especially this.

In short, there is no other country in the world which approaches guns with the laxity we do. No other conservative party in a democracy approaches guns as the GOP does. Often my students here often don’t even understand how gun ownership is a ‘conservative’ or partisan issue, which is something Americans should know. Righties in other countries are not gun fetishists. Even other societies with a frontier tradition – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia – don’t have the gun culture we do.

No one else thinks about Mad Max government collapse scenarios which would require you to be armed. (Trying to explain that one to non-Americans is almost impossible.)

No one else talks about an ‘armed citizenry’ resisting tyranny. When you try to explain this one, my students often can’t even figure out why they would battling their own democratic government. Good question! And then they wonder how regular Americans with guns could outshoot the cops or the military. They can’t, of course. Another good question!

And very definitely, no one wants armed teachers, metal detectors in schools, open carry, concealed carry, and so on. Hardening schools and letting regular people walk around packing strikes them as insanely dangerous.

Inevitably then, I get three or four papers a year in my US politics class on guns, and they’re uniformly negative and incredulous. One particular title I remember from years back: ‘The US is a Gun-ocracy.’ That just about sums it up.

South Korea’s New President is Probably a Bland Centrist – and That’s Fine

South Korea's new president, Yoon Suk-yeol (right), greets the country's outgoing leader, Moon Jae-in, at his inauguration ceremony in Seoul on Tuesday. | REUTERSThis is what a peaceful transition of power looks like, American Republicans! Moon and Yoon follow the rules. That’s good. Learn from that.

This is a repost of an article I wrote for The Japan Times.

My impression from teaching my student is that the new South Korean president, Yoon Seok-Yeol, ignites no enthusiasm. He reminds them of their grandfather – old, kinda out-of-touch, lacking charisma. But honestly, after 5 year of Moon Jae-In’s rollercoaster with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, I’ll take some bland boredom.

Yoon jumped into the race last year and does not have deep roots on the right here. Most importantly, he does not (seem to) share SK right’s fatiguing obsession with vindicating impeached former conservative president Park Geun-Hye. Park was guilty already! Get over it. I am hopeful that means he won’t prosecute Moon in his post-presidency solely for revenge, which I think almost any other traditional right-wing POTROK would do.

On policy, Yoon will lean to the right. He’ll be conservative on social mores – no gay marriage, no anti-discrimination law (sigh) – but he won’t be Trump. On economic issues – chaebol power, overlong work hours – he’ll do nothing, unfortunately. But at least on NK, we won’t have to hear anymore about what a misunderstood great guy Kim Jong-Un is. Enough of that. Those calling him the Donald Trump of Korea are probably just casting around for a label. Yoon doesn’t behave like Trump at all, thankfully.

Here is my essay for The Japan Times:

Yoon Seok-Yeol was inaugurated president of South Korea this week. He is a former prosecutor who only entered politics in the last year. He is from the conservative People Power Party. But he has no roots in that party or its various factions. Nor does he seem particularly ideological. He channels the basic anti-communism – aimed at North Korea – of the South Korean right. That has long been the core motivator of South Korean conservativism. But beyond that, he seems like a bland centrist.

This is a surprising turn. There is no obvious reason why South Korean conservatives would want him as their candidate, beyond simply defeating the left in the election. Yoon has no particularly programmatic interest in domestic politics. He is not a libertarian or religious social conservative, for example.

He has been called the ‘Donald Trump of Korea,’ but that feels mostly like foreign journalists grasping for an ideological handle for him. If he is a Trumpian populist, he has not talked that way. Trump’s signature mix of bombast, racism, tariffs, and loud nationalism is not how Yoon campaigned.

Please read the rest here.

The S Korean Presidential Election: A Third-Party Leftist Candidate Threw the Election to the Right

South Korea's new president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, celebrates his victory outside his People Power Party's headquarters in Seoul on Thursday. | AFP-JIJIThis is a local re-post of a column I wrote for the Japan Times on the election.

Basically, the left should have won. Its combined vote total was 1.5% greater than the right’s. But that vote was split over two parties (47.83% and 2.33%), with a small left-alternative party pulling away enough votes for the right (48.56%) to win the election.

As I argue in this Twitter thread, this election is a textbook example of Duverger’s Law and strategic voting in action. Whenever I discuss this in class, students always complain about strategic voting. The voters hate it. Everyone wants to vote their heart (sincere voting). But in a plurality race, that is a great way to throw the election to the other side.

In fact, the irony of sincere voting is that your precisely your enthusiasm to pull policy further to the left (in this case) by voting for the left-alternative party actually pushes policy to the right. That is, South Korea’s most convinced leftists delivered the country a right-wing government.

There are alternatives, like proportional representation (like in Germany) or double balloting (like in France). But that usually requires constitutional changes, so it’s best to follow the math not ideology. Which sucks. But I don’t see an alternative.

Here’s that Japan Times essay:

In South Korea’s election this week, the conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, of the People Power Party, defeated progressive Lee Jae-myung by just 0.73%.

Less reported in the international press is the fact that an alternative left-wing candidate, Sim Sang-jung, also ran. She received 2.33% of the vote, which almost certainly would have gone to Lee, of the ruling Democratic Party, had she not run. Sim “threw” the election to Yoon, as her votes would have given Lee a clear victory margin.

South Korean presidential elections reward the candidate with the most votes. This plurality requirement strongly encourages all voters on the right and left to converge around one unity candidate for each side. Small-party candidates can pull away votes from an ideologically similar, large-party candidate who might otherwise win.

Please read the rest here.

South Korea’s Very Limited Re-Opening

clip_image003This is a local repost of an essay I wrote last week for The National Interest

I wrote it in response to growing interest in the US in ‘re-opening.’ South Korea is further along the corona timeline than the West, and it dealt with corona very well. So if there is any economy ready to re-open, you would think that it is South Korea’s. Except that that is not really happening.

It’s true that restaurants are re-opened, that you can eat in them in proximity without a mask, and that masking generally is declining a bit. But not much. And most things are still closed – schools, concerts, museums, aquariums, marathons, whatever. And the government here is not talking about mass opening at all like the US discussion, especially on the right. In fact, it’s the opposite. The South Korean government keeps saying this will be a long slog, at least for the rest of the year.

The full essay follows the jump: Continue reading

The Floyd Protests: The South Korean Police are Far Less Belligerent than US Departments

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This is a local repost of an essay I wrote for The National Interest. Like everyone else, watching the brutality of the US police in the last few weeks has been genuinely shocking. So this essay discusses how a police force with a reputation for brutality during a previous dictatorship came a long way.

This is based on this original tweet thread.

The short version is that the South Korean police haven’t gone through the militarization the US police has. And South Korean police don’t face a heavily armed citizenry, so they don’t need to engage in an arms race against their own people. The result is a disarmed, de-escalatory police culture, which, as an American accustomed to the stormtrooper look and pose of US cops, I find just fantastic. Interactions with the police here are far less fraught and intimidating.

The full essay follows the jump:

Trump’s August was so Outlandish and Awful that He is Unfit to Remain President

Image result for backdraft burn it all

This is a local re-post of my monthly essay for the Lowy Institute for September.

In brief, I argue that Trump crossed a rubicon in August. He is now clearly unfit to be president. His behavior in August was so unhinged and inappropriate, that a 25th Amendment removal is now warranted. A white collar professional in any similar position of institutional authority – at a bank, school, hospital, military or government agency, etc. – would be removed for Trump’s August meltdown. So should Trump.

This will not happen of course. Republicans in Trump’s cabinet and in Congress clearly know he is unfit. Leaks like Rex Tillerson’s “he’s a f* moron” are common. But Trump voters’ bond to Trump is akin to a personality cult and they actually seem to approve of the chaos he has unleashed. So Washington Republicans won’t act. But still it is worth noting that they should. And why Trump voters have endorsed ‘burn it all’ is just beyond me. An ideological preference for Trump – however toxic and racist – is at least understandable. But what is the value is simply wrecking American governance?

So not only should the president probably be impeached for the obstruction findings of the Mueller Report, he should also be removed via the 25th Amendment for psychological unfitness. Never thought I’d that sentence. Wow.

The full essay follows the jump.

The South Korean Right in the Wilderness, part 2: Models for a Reformed Liberty Korea Party

This is a re-post of an op-ed I recently wrote for the Dong-A Daily newspaper. It is follow-up to my post from two weeks ago on the future of the South Korean conservative party.

The post of two weeks ago was a diagnosis of the Liberty Korea Party’s (LKP) ills. I argued that post-Park Geun Hye, the LKP had no real ideology or platform beyond old-style anti-communism. Its devotion to the chaebol is passé and reeks of corruption, and extolling Korea, Inc. yet again is just not enough when issues like terrible air quality, spiraling consumer debt, and ‘Hell Joseon’ are the issues on voters’ minds.

So in this op-ed, I look at some possible models for the LKP to follow as it comes back from the wilderness. The one which strikes me as most likely, unfortunately, is a Trumpist-populist turn. The LKP presidential candidate of 2017 already test-drove this idea, calling himself the ‘Donald Trump of Korea.’ Other models either culturally don’t fit well, like a Christian conservative party, or represent no real change, like copying the LDP of Japan.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and the LKP will come back as pro-market, pro-globlization party ready to open South Korea’s economy and support better corporate governance. But I doubt it. The Trumpian path of racism, damning immigrants and out-groups, and plutocracy is so much easier. The extremely harsh backlash to the Yemenis in Jeju suggests this would be a fruitful path to follow. Too bad…

The full essay follows the jump…

The South Korean Right in the Wilderness, part 1: Modernizing the Liberty Korea Party

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for the Korean Dong-A Daily newspaper.

So exactly no one in the English-speaking cares much about this topic. Everyone wants to talk about Trump and Kim and North Korean nuclear weapons. I get it.

But I do think it is fascinating thinking about how the South Korean right will come back from the wilderness where it now is. Its last president was so corrupt, she was impeached. The conservative party – the Liberty Korea Party – then got trounced in the presidential election of 2017 and then again the local elections of 2018.

Unfortunately, it is still dominated by dead-enders for the last president, conspiracy theorists, and mccarthyites. So here is my advice for bringing the LKP back from the dead. South Korea, like any other country, needs a robust opposition party, so the LKP’s implosion is not actually a good thing even if you dislike its policies.

The full essay follows the jump…

 

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My Thoughts on the US Midterm: Voting against Trump to Defend US Institutions and Keep the GOP from becoming the National Front

Image result for trump national front

This essay is a re-post of a post I wrote for the Lowy Institute before the election explaining my vote against Donald Trump’s Republican party. This post went viral on Twitter; thank you.

One thing I wish I had emphasized more in retrospect is that Trump is turning the GOP into the National Front. I mention that in the essay, but the more I think about Trump’s impact on the Republicans, the more I think the National Front is the right model for where the GOP is going. The NF is a lot like Trump himself: semi-authoritarian, racist, gangsterish, flirting with anti-semitism. No wonder Bannon and Marine LePen get on so well.

I say all this as a deeply disaffected lifelong registered Republican. I voted a straight Democratic ticket this week just because of Trump’s threat to America’s institutions. I figure I will stay a registered Republican for the 2020 primary, to vote against Trump there. But if Trump wins re-election, I see no choice but to register as a Democrat. The GOP will be unrecognizable at that point – basically the American National Front by 2024. I imagine a lot of other center-right natsec types are probably thinking the same. This whole thing is so depressing, because the US actually needs a coherent center-right party as a part of checks-and-balances in a two-party system.

The full essay is after the jump…

Some Late Thoughts on John McCain

Image result for john mccain

I was on vacation there for awhile, and while I wrote the following after the senator’s death, I did not post it here back then. I know everyone is talking about Kavanaugh and Trump’s ‘very, very large brain’ right now, but I wanted to put this up before it fades.

In short, I think McCain was a reasonably ok senator who was celebrated so heavily mostly as a rebuke to Trump rather than for his actual record in the Senate. No one questions McCain’s patriotism or commitment to America. The real issue was his foreign policy judgment, which quite honestly, became increasingly belligerent and risk-taking, if not openly militaristic, after 9/11. McCain, like Lindsey Graham, Robert Kagan, and too many other neocons, simply refused to learn from the disasters of the Bush administration – and that these disasters opened the door to a charlatan like Trump. But he is obviously head-and-shoulders above Trump, and that matters. RIP.

The full essay follows the jump:

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