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Japan Political Pulse: In the U.S., the impulse society chooses a new president

The nastiest U.S. presidential election in history is rated adults only. It would be inappropriate for parents to sit down with their children to watch the televised debates between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent Donald Trump. There may be something worth studying in these clashes from a political science perspective, but giving guidance on what to watch is difficult.

On Oct. 7, a 2005 video of Trump making lewd and sexually aggressive remarks about women was revealed by the Washington Post. When Clinton confronted the billionaire businessman about it during an Oct. 9 televised debate, the second of three, Trump was defiant.

"If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action," he said, referring to former U.S. President Bill Clinton's sex scandals.

When asked during the third debate on Oct. 19 if, should he lose the Nov. 8 election, he would recognize the result, Trump refused to give a direct answer, saying, "I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense. OK?"

This is not some poor dictatorship or the mafia we're talking about here. This is the Republican Party candidate to be president of the United States, and there is no doubt that his words present an historic danger to American democracy itself.

I am deeply interested in the recent book "Trump Revealed," penned by Washington Post journalists Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher with the cooperation of many of their colleagues. What truly stirs my interest in the volume is an anecdote illustrating how Trump's dive into politics began with his turn as a reality TV star.

From 2004 to 2007, Trump hosted the NBC TV series "The Apprentice." In the show, Trump gave jobs at his firm to each of a group of ordinary people, none of them with any experience in the work they'd been assigned. Those who didn't perform well appeared before Trump on-camera, and the billionaire would bark, "You're fired!" The sheer unapologetic directness of the phrase shocked TV audiences, and the show was an enormous success.

"The Apprentice" was something of a public image rebirth for Trump, transforming him from scandal-plagued billionaire to decisive boss and businessman, his past racist comments forgotten in the process. Also apparently forgotten is that Trump has changed his party affiliation seven times, and was once a great Hillary supporter.

"Reality TV" means that there is no script, that what you see on the TV screen is authentic. In his recent volume "The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification," U.S. journalist Paul Roberts says that these shows are built on the combination of the viewers' reactions to seeing extreme, aberrant things, with the narcissistic desire of the people on screen for public exposure. The success of reality TV has, Roberts continues, created a culture where people are aware of being on-camera all the time, and normalized hubris.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has been dogged by doubts of another sort, relating to her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Specifically, critics suspect she is hiding evidence of something terrible.

Clinton has come to be seen as representing America's rich and powerful, as having lost her sense of fairness. And so she is distrusted -- a distrust that large contributions from major corporations has done little to assuage.

In the "impulse society" -- for which reality TV Trump has done so much -- any sense of self-doubt or patience has been lost. Profit and personal benefit take top priority, and there is no thought given to the things that make a good society over the long haul, like education, social welfare and medical care.

On the other hand, there is no guarantee that Clinton would set us free from the impulse society once and for all. There seems to be deep turmoil in the U.S.

Japan, on the other hand, does not indulge in such aggressive, point-blank debates among its political party leaders. However, Japan is starting to show symptoms of the impulse society. America is a good friend to Japan, but we cannot allow ourselves to emulate what's going on in this truly awful presidential election. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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