Monday, February 13, 2017

Things Might Be OK If Trump Borrows From Abe

By Noah Smith
The Bloomberg View
February 13, 2017

I have occasionally been accused of metaphorically hugging Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but so far I’ve never had the chance to do so in literal terms. Not so Donald Trump, who gave the Japanese leader a brotherly hug at a meeting at the White House on Friday. But I hope that in addition to hugging the man, Trump embraces Abe’s approach to governing. In the past four years, Abe has created a template for a responsible, positive modern nationalism.

When Abe was elected at the end of September 2012, many on the Japanese left and in the foreign press denounced him as a dangerous right-wing nationalist. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, served in the militarist Japanese government during World War II. He has worked to loosen the country’s postwar restrictions on its military, and his appointees have included Nanjing Massacre denialists. For these reasons, the “Abe is Hitler” memes flew fast and furious in his administration’s early days.

But actually, Abe has governed as anything but the right-wing revanchist many feared. Though his policies have clearly been aimed at strengthening Japan and boosting national pride, those policies have been responsible, smart, far-sighted and even liberal. If Trump adopts Abe’s blueprint, the U.S. will be in better shape than the president’s many critics fear.

First, Abe has shown that nationalism doesn’t mean keeping out immigrants -- it means viewing them as vital recruits whose contributions increase national strength. Since 2012, Japan has had a points-based immigration system similar to the one used by Canada, aiming to lure the world’s best and brightest. And under Abe, the government is taking even more steps to make it easy for skilled professionals to become permanent residents in Japan. The country’s universities are also allowing more foreign students. As a result of these and other initiatives, the total number of foreign workers in Japan -- including guest workers and permanent residents -- has gone up since Abe took power.

Trump has talked about implementing a points-based immigration system, so hopefully he will follow Abe’s lead. He should also focus on luring foreign students, as Japan has done, to save U.S. universities and the local economies that depend on them.

Abe has also worked hard to increase women’s participation in the economy. As a nationalist, the prime minister realizes that if women are able to work and raise families at the same time, the country gets stronger as a result. His “womenomics” program, much derided by the Japanese left and much of the foreign press, seems to be producing results. Japanese women are now more likely to hold jobs than their counterparts in the U.S. Abe has pushed for a major expansion of government-funded day care and increased parental leave -- two areas where the U.S. is a laggard. Under him the Japanese bureaucracy has introduced flex-time work schedules. Abe has also deployed powerful rhetoric to advocate women’s equality in the workplace, and has urged men to share more child-care duties.

It’s too soon to know the ultimate results of Abe’s push. But not only are Japanese women working more, they’re also having slightly more children. If the trend continues, it will help reduce the burden of the country’s aging population -- a problem the U.S. now shares with its Asian ally. If Trump, like Abe, were to push for paid parental leave and child-care subsidies, the U.S. might be able to repeat this success.

Finally, Abe’s tone and rhetoric have promoted a responsible, tolerant form of nationalism. After Abe’s election, many racist elements in Japan felt emboldened, perhaps hoping that the resurgence of nationalism would dovetail with their agenda. An anti-Korean group called Zaitokukai held marches denouncing Japan’s Korean residents, and online trolls unleashed a torrent of hate speech reminiscent of the so-called alt-right in the U.S. But instead of looking the other way, Abe denounced these groups and their divisive rhetoric. He formed a study group to consider stronger laws against hate speech. And under Abe, Japan’s police have stepped up monitoring of hate groups.

This is another area where Trump should borrow from Abe, and recognize that a strong nation is an inclusive nation. As in Japan, some U.S. hate groups have taken the rise of nationalism as a signal to step up hateful rhetoric and harassment of minorities. Trump should denounce and discourage these groups, and shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the threat of white supremacist terrorism.

Just as fears of Abe turned out to be overblown, fears of Trump’s nationalism may turn out to be exaggerated. That can happen if Trump sticks to Abe’s playbook, and pushes for a nationalism that is confident, pragmatic, inclusive and forward-looking. The more Trump looks like Abe, the less worried we should be.


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