While the rest of the world was still reeling from his 2016 election victory, the Japanese Prime Minister showed up at Trump Tower with a golden driver for the golf-mad President-elect
. The approach reflected Japan's savvy Washington diplomatic shop, and Abe's subsequent mixture of flattery and strategy spared his country the fury that the President flung toward many of America's traditional allies. Indeed, when he heard that Abe was stepping down because of ill health, Trump interrupted a volley of tweets inciting violence and spreading misinformation about the pandemic to praise a "Special man" who was "the greatest Prime Minister in the history of Japan."
For Washington, Abe's eight-year premiership
has meant strategic certainty. He ended a period of volatility in Tokyo when it seemed as though every time a US president went to Asia he had to meet a new Japanese counterpart. A new prime minister, even an Abe protege, will lack his patron's regional global clout
— in a neighborhood dominated by "forever" leaders and dynastic regimes in China, Russia and North Korea. Japan's economic fallout from Covid-19 may mean a new PM concentrates on events at home.
Abe's deft handling of China will be missed. He took a tough stand on territorial disputes with Japan's old enemy, but despite his nationalist leanings worked to build personal ties with President Xi Jinping — including during a visit to Beijing in 2018. Abe backed Trump's initial hard line on North Korea, but Tokyo was bewildered when the President appeared to shelve its interests in his rush to pal around with Kim Jong Un. Abe pleased Washington by boosting defense spending and easing restrictions on Japanese forces operating abroad, though he failed in his goal to revise the country's pacifist Constitution.
Given the US political calendar, Abe's departure comes at a foggy moment for US diplomacy.
But if Trump wins reelection, Japan's next leader will have to work hard to win his favor — crucial on issues like trade and for who foots the bill for US forces in the country. If Joe Biden triumphs, the US will return to a more traditional compact with its allies — and ostentatious personal flattery will no longer be the driving force for leaders hoping to get the President's ear.
'Do you feel safer and more secure now?'
It could be one of the most decisive moments of the presidential campaign.
Sixty days out from the election, Democratic nominee Joe Biden leapt back onto the campaign trail
, after months of pandemic-induced isolation at his home in Delaware, and met Trump's law and order assault head on.
In a fear campaign, the President is claiming that violence and protests erupting in several US cities are a mere taste of the anarchy that awaits if Biden wins the White House. But in a strong speech in Pittsburgh, Biden turned the argument against Trump.
"Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?" Biden said, highlighting a rising murder rate, 180,000 US deaths to Covid-19, Trump's effort to kill Obamacare health insurance, his inciting of violence and support for tax cuts that could drain the Social Security retirement fund.
"Do you feel safer and more secure now?"
The former vice president also pushed back at Trump's efforts to portray him as a friend of radical extremists (see above).
Trump will hit back on Tuesday when he travels to Kenosha County, Wisconsin, where police shot a Black man in the back recently in an incident captured on cell phone video, which led to protests in which two people were allegedly killed by a 17-year-old vigilante supportive of the President. Trump is trying to convince White suburban voters that violence could come to their towns unless they choose a strongman in November, i.e. him.
At this rate, the election, three days after Halloween, could come down to who comes across as the least scary candidate.
Another Russia mystery solved
One of the big mysteries of Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation — the failure to look into Trump's mysterious financial and personal ties with Russia —has been solved: The Justice Department told him not too.
In a new book, New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt reports that then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded there was no reason to probe this back story. The omission has long been a puzzle, since Trump has repeatedly deferred to Vladimir Putin, siding with the Russian President over Putin's denial of US election interference, and Trump has often appeared to advance Moscow's interests with his own foreign-policy decisions. Trump's own sons have boasted that the Trump Organization has profited handsomely from investments by Russians. And there were multiple odd encounters between Trump aides and figures affiliated with Moscow in 2016.
On the face of it, a desire to keep an odd relationship with Russia quiet would seem to be a possible motivation for apparent attempts by the President to obstruct justice that were listed in Mueller's final report. Schmidt also uncovered another revelation — that Trump had offered the then-homeland security secretary,
John Kelly, the job of FBI director after he fired James Comey
— on condition he pledge personal loyalty. Kelly demurred, saying he would be loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law.
Given the years of investigations and in-depth reporting over the Russia affair,
it's remarkable that more revelations — including those by Schmidt and a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report — are still coming out.
The exposes also highlight an even more important point. While what happened in 2016 is gradually emerging in investigations, books, documents and news reports in the US, the full story can never be complete without a similar gusher of truth in Moscow.
Putin knows, but he's not telling.