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The Voice


The Voice

The world is bigger than the United States

     After a trip to East Asia, Donald Trump returned to the U.S. proclaiming that the trip was a tremendous success. He was able to meet with leaders of several Asian nations, including Japan and China, as well as leaders of other prominent nations around the globe. One of those nations was Russia: during the official photo of meeting leaders, Trump and President Putin stood next to each other in the front row. Trump was able to negotiate with Chinese PM Xi Jinping for the release of three UCLA basketball players who had been arrested for shoplifting in China, so in that sense, Trump found some form of success. In other ways, however, Trump failed in his role as a representative of America by only portraying the segment of America that is incredibly hypocritical in terms of culture. So, what exactly happened?

     To kick off the meeting, Trump landed in Japan, where he was granted an audience with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. While his predecessor, former president Barack Obama, greeted his hosts with a handshake and a traditional bow, Trump merely shook hands and nothing more. While Obama was heavily criticized for bowing, with many Republicans claiming that he was making America look weak, few have come forward to acknowledge that the actual failure was Trump, and here’s why. In Japanese culture, bowing is still very common, even between colleagues. Everyone bows. Students bow to teachers. Store employees bow to customers. Coworkers bow to each other. It’s a form of greeting and showing respect to peers and superiors alike. There is an understanding that foreigners typically will not understand this custom, but it is greatly appreciated when a small bow is exchanged between diplomatic leaders. In ignoring this tradition, Trump showed that Americans are not interested in observing traditions of other nations. In particular, not bowing to an emperor, even if he is mostly a symbol of the nation, is terribly disrespectful. This is not the only instance of disrespect either.

      In his meetings in Japan, mostly with PM Shinzo Abe, Trump decided to tell the prime minister that the car manufacturers of his country should move more production to the U.S. instead of making America import the cars. There are a few things wrong with this. First, the prime minister has absolutely nothing to do with where manufacturers make their products, so telling Abe where his country’s manufacturers should produce was a little ridiculous. Second, it makes as much sense for Japanese car companies to build in the U.S. as it does for American companies to build outside America. And finally, Trump is ignoring the fact that Toyota is the number one most American-made car brand in the U.S., and that Honda has factories in several American states already. If Japan exported all of their manufacturing jobs to us, then where would their people find work? They would end up stuck, much like the citizens of another developed nation that most of the world knows…

     In addition, Trump committed another faux pas by leaving before the final summit meeting of East Asian nations, which he had initially been expected to attend. This meeting would wrap up the many others that had occurred and establish plans for future meetings and cooperation between the nations in attendance. Leaving early in many places is regarded as leaving a job unfinished or being uninterested in whatever is going on. By leaving ahead of a critical, scheduled meeting, Trump essentially said that America has said what it wanted to say and that commentary from other nations really is not his concern. He put America’s point of view out there, and what happens now doesn’t mean anything unless America comes first.

      These instances are part of a larger string of hypocrisies that seem to follow not only Trump, but Americans in general, whenever leaving the borders of the U.S. While Trump was unwilling to accommodate Japanese customs like bowing because some of the far-right critics think it is weak, and earlier in the year he wanted to land a helicopter on a sacred section of Israeli territory instead of taking the provided, less disruptive form of transportation, he was more than willing to accommodate the cultures of the Vatican and Saudi Arabia. He participated in some Saudi cultural practices predominantly for publicity, and in the Vatican, no one batted an eye when Melania and Ivanka wore veils; however, it is known that neither wore a veil in Saudi Arabia, which is again a point of disrespect that Americans seem to instead cherish. Those nations which cater to the American elite—their religious beliefs or their source of income—get the respect of their cultural norms, while others are simply overlooked for one reason or another.

      It isn’t just Trump and the elites who do this either. In fact, they mostly get these cues from the regular Americans who vote for them. Many people in the U.S., and an unfortunate number of them on the right, believe that foreigners who come to America as visitors or immigrants should be required to respect American “culture.” To do anything less is simply disrespectful. For example, many immigrants are expected to speak flawless English at all times, and those who struggle or have an accent are an insult to America or are simply refusing to assimilate fully into the country. However, America’s language training programs are often subpar and many Americans never learn a foreign language. They often expect people in foreign countries to default to English for conversation, and will berate those who do not do so as failing to do their job and serve the Americans who didn’t bother to learn a lick of the language before traveling.

      Other instances of disrespect are treated as almost comedic. In Great Britain, the guards of Buckingham Palace are often subjected to mockery and even physical harassment due to their stoic nature and their traditional clothing. Americans are particularly guilty of this, and it’s often taken as a challenge to get the guards to crack. But, if someone did this to the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the media would be calling for an act of war. All over the world, Americans demand special consideration and claim cultural ignorance. At the same time, anyone who enters America is expected to conform to the American way of life or face ridicule and harassment at every turn. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t American. And, sadly enough, even those who are “different” living in America aren’t safe from these cultural hypocrisies, which mostly try to “protect” white, Anglo-Saxon descendants in America.

      Trump recently held a conference to honor Navajo Code Talkers—Navajo veterans who used their language to help America win WWII with an unbreakable code—at the White House, and even this could not stop the cultural insensitivity that his voters craved. He took a jab at Senator Elizabeth Warren that he has taken before by referring to her as Pocahontas during the conference, in front of the veterans. Despite what Disney claims, the historical Pocahontas was a teenager who was married to a middle-aged, less than princely individual, converted to Christianity after being kidnapped, and later died before age 25 in England after contracting smallpox and being the butt of many racial jokes and jabs. He also held the conference in front of the portrait of his supposed hero, Andrew Jackson. You know, the man responsible for the Trail of Tears, which displaced 46,000 Natives and caused the deaths of some 4,000 to make space for—you guessed it—white settlers. Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics—all have faced the same cultural hypocrisies and the demands to conform to the culture of the ruling elites and the lower classes of white Americans. Being proud of your culture or heritage is one thing: demanding that others conform to it or suffer, or ridiculing their culture because it’s different, is not okay in the least.

     This is a global age we are living in. The world is bigger than just Europe or America, and there are other cultures out there that have their own customs that should be respected. It isn’t a matter of you deciding whether or not these customs are “un-American” while you’re there. Use the internet to do a little research. And if you don’t like the culture of the country that you planned to visit, perhaps it would be a good idea to do a backyard vacation instead.

Arianna is a senior Russian and History major. She is Editor in Chief for The Voice

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