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2017-11-03 17:28
By Peter Yoonsuk Paik



This is the third in a series of open letters to the visiting U.S. President Donald Trump. ― ED.

Mr. President, welcome to South Korea. It is a particular privilege for me to offer my greetings to you from the land of my birth, not only as a naturalized American who has returned to work in South Korea but also as one of the nearly 63 million Americans who cast their vote for you in 2016.

My decision to vote for you marked a radical break for me. For you see, I had voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, and I had spent considerable time going door to door trying to persuade my fellow Wisconsinites to vote for the Democratic candidate for president in 2004 and 2008.

But the two terms served by Obama, which saw the US shatter a force for regional stability by overthrowing Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and become entangled in a needless confrontation with Russia, convinced me that my party had no real interest in changing the disastrous course that the U.S. had taken since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While there is still unfinished business in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. under Obama and Hillary Clinton increased the number of its enemies at a time when the military is badly overstretched and our country itself is in dire need of rebuilding.

While I was troubled by some of the language you used to describe immigrants, nevertheless I came to admire your willingness to speak frankly and fearlessly about the mistakes made by past administrations, which the other candidates, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, were not willing to do.

You spoke in moving terms as well about the plight of working-class and middle class Americans who have suffered steep declines in their health and fortunes from an economy that awards vast riches to the well-connected few. And you placed at the forefront of your campaign the principle that every responsible statesman must follow, but which few American politicians of either party appear to remember: a nation must put the needs of its own citizens first, before it can do any good in the world.

Your visit will be met by protesters, many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that drove the previous President Park Geun-hye from office after a corruption scandal. Unfortunately, most protesters know you only from the distorted image of you presented by the mainstream media in the US, which former President Jimmy Carter has rightly criticized for their unrelenting negativity.

If these protesters spoke with my fellow Americans who reached out to me in the months before the 2016 election ― the elderly who find themselves stuck in increasingly crime-ridden neighborhoods, talented and well-educated workers who saw many things going wrong in their country but chose not to exercise their First Amendment right to speak out of the fear of being fired from their jobs, the young who are suffering under the heavy burden of student loan debt and find an economy rigged against them, and middle class professionals alarmed by the spread of opioid addiction in the suburbs ― they would find that many of the causes that drove them to protest against the corrupt and incompetent President Park are similar to the ones that propelled you to an unprecedented electoral victory against the expectations of the political and media establishment.

So, welcome to South Korea, Mr. President. I hope your visit will be productive, but also that you will experience the marvels that South Korea has been able to achieve in rising from the devastation of a bloody war to becoming one of the world’s leading economies. For today’s prosperous and democratic South Korea is a testament to the ability of the United States to keep the peace in a divided and dangerous region.

And it is my dearest hope that you and your administration will at last reawaken the talent of the United States for making peace, a talent which has been neglected to our great detriment by the ruinous and futile crusades of the past decade and a half. Many of us who voted for you risked the loss of our friendships and our reputations, but we did so because you were the only hope for breaking out of the vicious circle created by the destructive policies that have spread chaos across the globe and dealt great harm to the United States.

Northeast Asia stands at a turning-point. May diplomacy, and the hard work of building peace, prevail in this new world that is now taking shape before our eyes.


Peter Yoonsuk Paik (pypaik@gmail.com) is a researcher in literature and philosophy at Yonsei University.


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