“Ask not what your country can do for you, but for what you can do for your country.”
-President John F. Kennedy
On Sunday, November 6th I had a discussion with one of my Korean friends about the current political situation in South Korea. In short, it was discovered that the president (Park Geun-Hye) was sharing drafts of her speeches with a particular mentor for “suggestions,” as well as countless documents on classified information such as inner cabinet working and national security briefings among others. Further, she only delivered the final version of these speeches, which included her mentor’s edits, so she had influence over the president’s policies and appointments. This has fed people’s suspicions that she is so incompetent, she cannot do anything on her own, including public speaking. Further complicating things, is the fact that the mentor is the daughter of a Christian/Shaman/Buddhist cult founder, and a “priestess” herself. In addition, there is clear financial corruption in the president’s administration, which is connected to the mentor friend.
I asked my friend about his perspective on the matter. This is his answer, albeit paraphrased: “Our president cannot do many things on her own. I thought puppet presidents were a thing of the past. If South Korea was a developing country, I could understand how having a puppet a president could be possible. But South Korea is a developed country and we are in the 21st century.” I could sense his disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment at the whole ordeal. It made me wonder, what does this mean for our society? Even developed countries experience political issues. Maybe modern society hasn’t progressed as far we like to believe.
After we exhausted that topic, he asked if we could talk about something less serious. So we talked about movies. We even made a list of films we will watch together. First up, The Bridget Jones Diary (his choice, I don’t like romantic comedies). It must be a theme of this year. The only other things we have watched in our house are a Korean romantic drama and Pride and Prejudice. Both are surprisingly entertaining.
That’s where this blog post originally ended.
Then on Tuesday, November 8th, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. What surprised me was not only his victory, but the fact the he won almost every swing state. His victory reminds of an issue that we talk about regularly in the YAV program: we cannot think of things as isolated, unfortunate incidents. Instead, we should think about “of what is this an instance.” We should not see individual events as problematic, but rather think about how they are an example of larger societal issues. This perspective applies to issues of gender, race, economic welfare, and social justice. And it applies to politics too.
In this case, there was a clear divide between certain demographics of the United States’ population. Certain people, in fact many people, are tired of the “same-old” politics. They want change. And they felt Donald Trump best represented them because he was the outsider in the entire election. Even though as a wealthy businessman, he may not have that much in common with many of them.
I am not shaming anyone for voting the way they did. Actually, I realized that I don’t know many people who vocally supported Trump. But maybe that is indicative of the problem. I am from an urban, middle class family. I am openly liberal, at least on social issues. Many of my friends are like-minded and from similar backgrounds. So even if one of them did support Donald Trump, they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing it amongst our circle of friends.
Further, maybe I have been blind to the plight of fellow Americans in other parts of the country. As a YAV, I live in a house with four other American volunteers. Though we are from different parts of the country, we all are college educated and committed to our work in Korea. We also share similar political views. Yet, even in our small community we have communication issues. Sometimes people feel misunderstood or misinterpreted. This can cause them to feel alone. And we have to work out those issues through dialogue and clear communication. It’s not easy. We don’t always succeed. Maybe these communication issues occur in our larger society as well.
So, I ask my fellow Americans: It is the 21st century. Clearly, not all of us are on the same page. Some people feel marginalized and alone. And in the election, their “champion” won: Donald Trump. Because like his supporters, he was the outsider amidst the status quo. What does this say about our society?
Further, in comparing political situations of South Korea and the United States, it is evident that distrust of the political establishment is a common theme, even in developed countries. (The Brexit situation could be another example as well).
Regardless of what is to come, I pray for South Korea. I pray for the United States. I pray for better dialogues and understandings between people. I pray that people feel they have a voice in their political system and that their voices are heard.
And I pray that Bridget Jones Diary is as entertaining as everyone says.