This article explores the central role of Japan’s rise to global economic prominence in the evolution of Donald J. Trump’s worldview. It traces how the transformation of the relationship between the United States and Japan during the 1980s informed Trump’s ideas about trade and protectionism, globalization, the international economy, and executive power. Trump, it argues, was a product of U.S.-Japanese relationship; while he began his public career as a prominent critic of Japan, claiming that the country exploited American trade and defense policy, his career in real estate heavily relied on Japanese finance. This contradictory approach continues to shape his understanding of Japan. As president, Trump repeatedly condemns Japan as predatory and protectionist, but also seeks expanded Japanese investment in the United States to revitalize the U.S. economy. Equally important, Trump has expanded criticisms originating with Japan to countries like China and Mexico, international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the World Trade Organization. By tracing Trump’s rhetorical, financial, and diplomatic encounters with Japan over the past thirty years, this article uncovers the sources of Trump’s contradictory attitudes towards trade, globalization, and cross-border investment and his understandings of strong leadership and executive power.
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