Meet the Neo-Fascist Leader’s Long-Lost Twin Brother
Trump and Abe golfing in Japan in 2019; (right) a publicly defaced campaign poster of Abe depicting him as Hitler, in Kobe, Japan.
You can always judge a person by the company he/she keeps, as the old saying goes, and nowhere does that hold truer than in the world of global politics. The fake president of the United States (FPOTUS), Donald Trump, for one, has never met a right-wing extremist leader of a nation or a military strongman he didn’t like, and these dangerous leaders have returned the love to the American fake president in kind.
Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, has been dubbed by the New York Times the “political twin” of Trump for Modi’s nationalistic policies and the use of violence, fear, discrimination and intimidation among his followers as weapons to secure his domestic political base at all costs. Modi of India, Duterte of the Philippines, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Orban of Hungary, Netanyahu of Israel — the list goes on and on: Taking a page out of Trump’s diary, these and other leaders of nations around the world are marching in lock-step while setting their own brand of neo-fascist ideological agendas for the future.
But one leader of a nation has been falling well under the radar of most of the world’s observers and commentators in this regard: Shinzo Abe of Japan, who is proving himself in many ways to be, above all others, the long-lost political twin brother of Donald Trump.
From the beginning of Trump’s tenure as FPOTUS in 2017, many political commentators in the western press have shaken their heads in bewilderment at this unlikely “odd couple” getting together: Abe the suave, sophisticated, politically connected prime minister in Japan versus Trump the crude, rude, political neophyte, business wheeler-dealer. But that just shows how little these media-analyst types know about politics in the real world.
From the beginning, I warned that far from being an odd couple, Trump and his neo-fascist leanings would find much fertile ground in Abe’s brand of ultra-nationalism — and that this political partnership would prove to be a very dangerous one to the world. So far, I have not been proven wrong.
As Japanese academic Koichi Nakano has correctly noted in this New York Times piece, Abe was “Trump before Trump”, in the complimentary words of Steve Bannon, the extreme-right Trump loyalist. Abe’s appeal to his far-right-wing base in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) over the years has been patriotic talk of Utsukushii Nippon, or Beautiful Japan, a nation that once again returns to Japan’s glory days as a wartime empire ruled by an almighty emperor and all the death and destruction that that entailed for other Asian countries. This would be the Japanese version, you might say, of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Trump has no love for the institution of the free press in the USA or elsewhere, often calling it “the enemy of the people” — a pronouncement that sounds shivers down my spine as a journalist every time I hear it.
Abe, for his part, actually has hands-on experience in censoring Japan’s news media. Back in 2001, while serving as a high-level cabinet official under then-Japanese prime minister Koizumi, Abe paid a little visit to the Tokyo offices of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, in advance of a television program that NHK was planning to broadcast about the Japanese military’s enslavement of thousands of women from neighboring Asian countries during World War II. This is a very touchy subject in Japan and in other Asian nations, especially when considering that Japan’s Emperor Hirohito at the time was in charge of Japan’s military and that he was considered to be a direct descendant from God.
Following Abe’s visit to their offices, NHK ended up editing the sex-slave TV program into small pieces and sabotaging the planned program’s strong criticism of the Japanese government. Abe was accused at the time of having pressured NHK into censoring its own program, but he denied the accusations. “I told them [at NHK] the reporting had to be neutral, that opposing views had to be introduced and that there was a need for a neutral distribution of time [to the two sides],” Abe insisted. “I only said what I had to as a Diet member. It was different from political pressure.”
The end-result, however, was the same as other heavy-handed acts of media censorship in Japan over the years. Abe, after all, is a proud member of Nippon Kaigi, an ultra-nationalist organization in Japan that holds revisionist views on Japanese history, including denying the role of government coercion in the recruitment of Asian women as sex slaves during World War II. So, the censoring of NHK, or the attempted censoring of it, should come as no surprise to anyone.
Occupying the Same Shadows
Trump thumbs his nose and gives the finger to the U.S. Congress when it tries to investigate the fake president for possible violations of the law. Abe, on the other hand, has staked his political reputation on basically overturning Japan’s “Peace Constitution” altogether so that it will be easier to beef up Japan’s military forces and dispatch them abroad in the future. When it comes to military matters, Trump and Abe stand together as political twin brothers right up to today.
And Shinzo Abe should know a thing or two about politics: His maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was prime minister in Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Prior to that, Kishi was a suspected war criminal who was held in a prison in Tokyo during the U.S. occupation of Japan in the 1940s and 1950s. Upon Kishi’s release from prison and the U.S. dropping all war-crimes charges against him, Kishi proceeded to work closely with the U.S. government — including, as many sources have documented over the years, the Central Intelligence Agency and CIA-related front organizations in Japan. As an extreme right-wing nationalist and a rabid anti-communist who consorted with all kinds of shady mafia-types in Japan, Kishi was the one person that the CIA and the U.S. government knew they could depend on.
Kishi was not too popular back then with the Japanese public, though, especially when it came to his ardent support of the U.S.-Japan military partnership. And what goes around comes back around: Nearly 60 years later, his grandson, Shinzo Abe, the current prime minister, is following in those neo-fascist footsteps with a fake president named Trump.
And what is Trump’s own chief political cause, pray tell? Building a wall on America’s southern border to keep out all brown-skinned refugees, even if it means separating refugee families and putting young refugee children into institutions or into a U.S. military base, amid growing public protests. All that’s missing are the gas ovens and the trains to ship them there, as Nazi Germany did with Jews under Adolf Hitler during the last century. But give Trump’s Great America time — it’s steadily getting there.
Shinzo Abe, as prime minister of Japan, liked Trump’s style so much that he was the first foreign leader in line to meet Trump at the Trump Towers in New York City after his election as U.S. president. Since then, Abe has even reportedly nominated Trump to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (Wrap your mind, if you dare, around the thought of Trump as a Nobel laureate.)
Abe recently invited Trump to Japan as the first foreign leader to greet Japan’s new emperor, and as of today, 29 June, Trump is back here again in Japan for the G-20 international summit meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka, not far from where I live. Abe had returned from a sudden trip to Iran, which Trump had pushed him to make to the oil-rich Arab nation, just in time to convene the big G-20 gathering here.
Many in Japan have ridiculed Abe in his fawning over all things Trumpian and his willingness to do Trump’s bidding, but Abe is not stupid. He knows what he is doing. Abe understands who butters his bread — or to put it in the Japanese context, who slices his sushi. He knows a neo-fascist twin brother when he sees one, and it’s all about firming up those nationalist ties and promoting a far-rightist ideology at a time when many other countries are doing the same thing. Abe and Trump, as long-lost twin brothers from a common right-wing mother, are only riding the wave together. If you understand their respective policies in the USA and Japan and how they’ve come to occupy the same shadows, it all makes perfect sense.
But is this dangerous state of affairs something we should just sit back and accept, watching helplessly as the neo-fascist parade passes before us? Ah, that’s another matter altogether. There is much that can be done by good people of conscience in both the United States and Japan to change the outcome of this game, and time is of the essence.
The Donzo and Shinzo Show may be the hottest neo-fascist act playing out in Washington DC and Tokyo at the moment, but it won’t last forever. Remember, it was only public dissent and public action that drove Abe’s prime-minister grandfather out of office in Japan in the 1960s, and likewise with Trump’s political hero, Richard Nixon, in the United States in the 1970s. So, all is not lost.
But the first step is recognizing a growing nationalist threat when we see it, and in the two long-lost twin brothers, Donald Trump of America and Shinzo Abe of Japan, we find a textbook case. We are the ones who get to write the ending of that book, however, and the sooner we get to work on it, the sooner that swastika-inspired storybook will go right out of print.