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Random thoughts from Trump's nation - Kavi Chongkittavorn

 www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1492530/random-thoughts-from-trumps-nation

 

'Iknow Bruce Lee. Aargh...aargh...aargh…!," screamed a black driver in front of me at the intersection near the Marriott Hotel in Rockville, Maryland.

"Great, dude!" I yelled back. Then, 100 metres away, at the entrance to the nearby Metro station, a young and skinny black was asking for money. "Good day, do you have any spare change?" he asked empathically. "Sure, here is a dollar," I responded.

A few steps further before I entered the train station, a black middle-aged man handed me a free newspaper, the Express. "Have a good weekend, my man. See you again Monday," he said with a big smile

The front page of the Washington Post's free daily had an angry headline, Divisive By Design, with a black and white portrait of President Donald Trump with a satanic tongue. It's sub-head read: "Trump's dehumanising rhetoric on migrants fits a pattern of stroking racial tensions for his and his party's political gain".

My encounters above happened in a span of only 35 minutes while I was walking down the road to board a train. They provided insights into the American psyche and how they perceive outsiders.

It is extremely hard these days to understand the real American sentiment toward the outside world. Today, there are two different versions of the outside world: one is inside America and the other really outside, beyond the American frontier. For the first outside world -- it is a separate cosmos existing alongside mainstream America. A very good example was the separation of children from their parents who entered the US illegally.

For the past few days before President Trump changed his mind on the separation of children from their parents who entered the border illegally under his "zero tolerance" policy, he said there was nothing he could do. But then he flipped and did the opposite.

This has now become a pattern -- whatever he says and commits to can change at any time. His supporters are not annoyed by Mr Trump's erratic behaviour. Instead, he is gaining more support from disenfranchised Americans. Last week, he signed an executive order to end the separations. This is just one case of America's outside world inside in its own territory.

It is hard for me to watch the evening news in the US these days about immigration and how Mr Trump and his cabinet try to defend the current policy. I lived in the US through the Sept 11 tragedy in 2001. I saw the world weep for America and its people. Throughout my nine-month stay in the US that year, I witnessed the transformation of American society after the terrorist attacks and the sympathy expressed from around the world. Ceaseless support poured in. America was at its best when it was humble and humanistic. That was why America bounced back quickly and continued to gain respect and play a leadership role.

Now it is different. It is also difficult to say that America still enjoys the same level of global support.

The second outside world has to do with the US relationship with foreign countries. Mr Trump has upended diplomatic practice, turning centuries of carefully nurtured international protocol and codes of conduct into reality shows and comedies.

Surprisingly, despite Mr Trump's tweets and more lies, Americans seem to lack hope in how to respond. After all, he was elected by the American voters. In other Western countries, it would be hard to envisage such a leader who could go on telling small and big lies several times a day unpunished.

More than the local people here would like to admit, America has a different set of standards. Sometimes, the US government can be intolerant towards injustice and violations in faraway lands. Other times, Washington just turns a blind eye. It all depends on perceived US interests.

However, for something similar occurring inside its own borders, it is difficult to ignore, especially the migration and racial issues.

At first, the authorities concerned used legal terms to defend the president's actions to separate immigrants' children. This did not go very far due to growing condemnation from some of American leaders and the media.

It was constructive that Mr Trump flipped, otherwise it could have turned toxic and be used as a symbol of a new America, a heartless one. It also came at a time when the US seems to be pulling out of a myriad of international agreements and organisations.

Last week, Washington withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council -- a serious blow to the world's most powerful country and No.1 rights promoter. It has become the first nation to do so since the council was set up in 2006. Indeed, now it will not be as easy as before for the US to preach democracy and human rights, the main tenets of US diplomacy. Maybe it is still too early to say what the long-term implications for America's place in the world following Mr Trump's highly unpredictable and unconventional diplomacy will be. There are also some winners and losers in terms of his presidential style.

For the time being, Thailand is among the winners. After all, it was Mr Trump who broke the iron-cast spell by his predecessor following the military coup in May 2014. He invited Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to the White House last October which immediately normalised Thailand's bilateral ties with the US and boosted Thailand's regional and international profile. Most importantly, better ties with Bangkok benefit Washington.

Without Mr Trump's personal initiative, Gen Prayut's major European tour last week would not have been possible. It is a positive sign of acknowledgement that the West still has faith in Thailand's democratisation process and wants to resume normal ties after a long diplomatic hiccup.

On Friday, Mr Trump met Virachai Plasai, the newly appointed Thai ambassador to the US. The president asked about Gen Prayut during the accreditation ceremony at the White House. The 200-year-old Thai-US relationship is now moving on the right path despite the trembling in the Trump administration on all matters.

Luckily, Mr Trump's security team is not distracted from the essence of Thai-US friendship. Last week, White House National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs Matthew Pottinger, had a good meeting with Thai authorities in Bangkok, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss Thailand and Asean's role in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy. After Singapore, Thailand will be the 2019 chair of Asean.

In early June, responding to a Thai initiative, US Defence Secretary James Mattis also held an informal meeting with Asean defence ministers on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore. He pledged to work closely with Thailand.

Once the long-awaited election is held sometime next year ending the military rule, Thailand will become a democratic country in the eyes of Washington and the rest of the world and its new elected government will operate without the strenuous outside pressures seen in the past four years.


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