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Trash talk tips

June 14,2019
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Kim Hyun-ki
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The first U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Sept. 26, 2016, was like the fight of the century. The Washington Times compared it to 1971’s legendary boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, when the two boxers fought each other for the heavyweight title. Before the debate, Trump’s advisers from the Republican Party warned him not to spend the entire 90 minutes merely attacking Clinton. But that’s exactly what he did. A CNN/ORC poll taken after the debate found that 62 percent of the viewers favored Clinton, whereas only 27 percent favored Trump. In particular, Clinton came out on top in five swing states.

Trump did not back down in the second debate. Instead of apologizing for his scandalous 11-year-old “Access Hollywood” tape, Trump took on Clinton’s husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, saying: “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action … There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women.” When Clinton criticized Trump’s false statement by saying, “It’s awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” Trump replied, “You’d be in jail” if he was. Poll results following that second debate still showed that Americans favored Clinton over Trump, 57 percent to 34 percent. But, astonishingly, the gap shrank. In a poll following the third debate, the gap was even narrower — 52 percent to 39 percent — although Clinton was still in the lead.

Through his campaign, Trump made spiteful remarks. Of former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, Trump said, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever.” Trump said of former U.S. President Barack Obama that he was the “founder of ISIS,” adding, “The co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.” On top of calling Clinton a “devil,” Trump shared a fan’s tweet that read, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” In yet another jab at Carly Fiorina, a rival Republican presidential candidate, Trump said, “Look at that face … Would anyone vote for that?”

The United States has grown numb to Trump’s hateful language. By now, it’s hard for Americans to be surprised by anything he says. When Politico reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats she wants to see Trump “in prison” rather than impeaching him, the strong words barely made a ripple on the news scene. Yet against all odds, a poll conducted by SSRS in late May showed 54 percent of Americans believe Trump will win a second term in office in 2020.

South Korea and the United States seem to be on different pages when it comes to handling North Korea, but when comparing Trump and Korean lawmakers, it seems they’re going hand-in-hand. Cha Myung-jin, a former lawmaker of the Saenuri Party — the predecessor of the current main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) — recently called President Moon Jae-in “a commie,” and Rep. Min Kyung-wook, spokesman of the LKP, compared Moon’s ongoing trip to northern Europe as “going fishing in a river,” which roughly means “idly going on an picnic.” Moon’s ruling Democratic Party responded that the LKP was “a makmal [rude-talking] faucet,” calling the comments “revolting.” I’m personally not a fan of Korean media’s labeling of lawmakers’ comments as “makmal” because I think members of the public are the ones to decide whether a politician’s remarks are rude or not. U.S. or Japanese media outlets usually choose the terms “discriminating” or “rough” when referring to such harsh words. In that sense, Rep. Min had my sympathy when he said every criticism against the president should not be denigrated as makmal.

The point is the following: Why are Korean lawmakers competing against one another by making remarks that many moderates find unappealing and down-right uncomfortable to hear? We must not follow Trump’s debased use of language. John Morley, the late British journalist-turned-statesman, once said, “Success depends on three things: who says it, what he says, how he says it; and of these three things, what he says is the least important.” I bet many Koreans would agree to this.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 12, Page 30