From Japan to Houston During the G20 Circus

Photograph Source: Alan Santos/PR CC BY 2.0

I left Japan for Houston last week, going from a country where gun violence is virtually unknown to one that is a free-fire zone.

In 2017, just 3 people were killed in shooting incidents in Japan, where there is strict gun control.

By contrast, and let’s focus on children alone, data from the Center for Disease Control shows that 6.63 children, 18 and under, died each day from violence-related firearm deaths in 2017, the last year those statistics are available (2,420 total deaths divided by 365 days = 6.63).

As I was leaving Kyoto for Tokyo airport by bullet train, the annual circus that is the G20 summit was about to begin in nearby Osaka.

Nothing worthwhile or lasting has ever been achieved at these G20 events, which are for PR consumption and little else.

But they provide plenty of opportunities for gaffes and missteps on the part of the participating leaders, especially where Trump is concerned.

What could be expected from Trump, going by his previous foreign visits, is a policy announcement or two done on the hoof, misdescriptions of the people he meets (“I met the president of the US Virgin Islands”, who of course is Trump himself, “the Prince of Whales”, and so forth), his customary lies, insults (a favourite target being the Muslim mayor of London), and of course little idea of what is going on.

Trump came out with at least one whopper at the summit, when he claimed that air and water in the US are the “cleanest” they have ever been.

PolitiFact has assessed Trump’s repeated claims that the US is “the cleanest country on the planet” , and says:

“The Environmental Performance Index is the go-to source for questions on environmental quality. Yale and Columbia University researchers teamed up with the World Economic Forum in 2018 to compile the data.

Using 10 categories, they ranked the United States 27th. On air it ranks 10th and on water, 29th. Among wealthy democracies, the United States ranks toward the bottom, according to Zachary Wendling, principal investigator at the Environmental Performance Index.

Switzerland ranked first on the overall index, Barbados ranked first on air quality, and eight European countries tied for first on water. European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Japan tend to top the United States in environmental performance”.

Air quality has in fact declined in quality since Trump took office in 2016. AP FACT CHECK says:

Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency data show that in 2017, among 35 major U.S. cities, there were 729 cases of “unhealthy days for ozone and fine particle pollution.” That’s up 22 percent from 2014 and the worst year since 2012.

The Obama administration, in fact, set records for the fewest air polluted days in 2016. In 2017, after Trump took office, the number of bad air days per metro area went up 20%.

There was also an insult directed at the host-nation Japan, according to The New York Times:

“Before arriving in Japan, Mr. Trump had reportedly been musing about withdrawing the United States from the security treaty with Japan signed in 1951 and revised in 1960 — the cornerstone of the alliance between the United States and Japan and a pillar of American foreign policy. On Wednesday, asked about the treaty on Fox News, Mr. Trump sneered, “If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III.” Then he added: “But if we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television”.

The right-wing Japanese prime minster Shinzo Abe, who has shown himself a skilled arse-licker when dealing with Trump, must have been mortified by this boorish comment.

Abe is a wealthy man, but his shares may be in Panasonic rather than Sony, so Trump’s gibe could have miffed him in more ways than one.

In the mandatory photo-op of leaders at the end of the conference, none of the other leaders showed-up with their significant others, but Trump brought Ivanka along to sit and stand next to him, signalling clearly she is the de facto First Lady, this breach of protocol notwithstanding.

Here in muggy Houston the recovery from Hurricane Harvey is still going on—a drive around the neighbourhood where I’m staying shows there are dumpsters outside unoccupied houses, filled with their stripped-out insides; and RVs parked in driveways, where property owners live while they work on their houses.

I was told that those who did not have flood insurance when the hurricane struck, could only rebuild by dipping into their savings, or if these were not sufficient, by doing it bit by bit from paycheck to paycheck.

You feel sorry for the people of Houston, while bearing in mind they still have it better when it comes to government aid than the long-suffering Puerto Ricans, victims of the brutally uncaring Trump administration.

Texas, one of the most solidly Republican states (Texas has backed Republican candidates for more than 40 years of presidential elections, since Carter’s 1976 victory), nonetheless is giving out signs that Trump could be in trouble there.

A Quinnipiac University poll released in early June shows Biden leading Trump 48% to 44% among the 1,200 Texans contacted. To take into account the preponderance of Republicans in Texas, the pollsters included just 407 Democrats and “Democrat-leaners” in their survey.

Even Elizabeth Warren was statistically even with Trump– 45% of those polled would vote for her, versus 46% for Trump, with 5% of voters saying they “don’t know” which of the two would be their choice in the election.

Trump leads Bernie Sanders 47% to 44% in the same poll.

Predictably, Biden did well among women (despite his confirmed reputation for being “handsy”), independents, and non-whites (despite his being a pal of the segregationist Strom Thurmond and his part in the lamentable treatment of Anita Hill).

Texas has 38 electoral seats, the second-largest after California, so Trump’s chances of being elected would be almost zero if the Democrats somehow managed to take Texas.

Of course a single poll does not an election make, and Biden’s sloppy campaigning to date, and problematic past positions on key issues, may not see him becoming the actual Dem candidate.

Warren’s impressive showing in the poll is an eye-opener, however.

It is too early to say what the Quinnipiac University poll will portend for the presidential election, but at this stage any anti-Trumpist, while certainly not expecting too much from the Dems (with their track-record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory), may well wonder if a surprise, such as Texas going for Warren, could be in store in 15 months’ time.

Next week I will be in London, to get a further sense of the long-running Brexit shambles, and to join in the waves of laughter prompted by the Tory leadership contest between two individuals manifestly not qualified for the job of being prime minister.



Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.