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Perhaps the greatest joy of expatriation lies in the luxury of watching the political theater in your home country with all the dispassion of a daytime soap opera.
You can simply roll your eyes at the stilted twists or turns, laugh at the bad acting or simply switch off the channel secure in the knowledge that no portion of your labor goes to the producers or their advertisers.
It's all just free entertainment.
At no point should this have felt more true than during the rise of Donald Trump—a man made by and for television.
And yet he has proven as impossible to ignore as a worm hole opening up in your living room and slowly sucking everything you own into a parallel dimension.
Growing up in Reagan's America, Donald Trump was a joke and not a very funny one.
For a time, he occupied the brain of a cartoon cat during the last days of a popular Sunday comic strip. When I was 12, he made a cameo appearance on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, playing himself. Up until the launch of his campaign, Trump made regular appearances in professional wrestling matches, a cretinous billionaire capable of riling up the rubes just by smirking and falling down when he got hit.
Off screen, Trump played much the same character: a man who named buildings after himself, ran casinos into the ground and married and divorced a string of beauty queens and Eastern European trophy wives unnaturally selected to allow him to continue fathering children in his 60s.
Trump barely seemed to bother himself with political thoughts, unless they came gurgling from the food holes of retired Republican C.H.U.Ds (see, Richard Nixon, Roy Cohn, Newt Gingrich).
Trump admired them all; one sub-human to another.
And then he began publicly wondering whether the sitting U.S. President had forged his birth certificate.
It didn't matter that Obama hadn't forged the document. Nothing would matter for the next year or so, when Trump toured the country pledging to imprison the former secretary of state.
He aborted the billion-dollar Jeb Bush campaign with the verbal equivalent of wedgies, fanned conspiracy theories about a Tea Party pariah from Texas and gut-punched the corrupt governor of New Jersey—all on cable television.
All of this provided great entertainment here in Ho Chi Minh City, until a fateful morning in May.
President Barack Obama was in town and thousands had poured into the streets just to get a look at him.
A young woman standing in line to see Obama speak to other entrepreneurs mentioned that her American-educated husband had come to love Donald Trump during hours spent watching him pretend to fire people on television.
And suddenly, Trump wasn't entertaining anymore. He was a threat to the Vietnamese way of life.
This nominally educated person actually liked Donald Trump in the same superficial way so many people liked Barack Obama.
How many others did? And why?
As Trump's shocking victory neared, people in Vietnam began to ask the same question—and answer it.
“Trump: very good,” crowed Hung, a crocodile skin salesman in the northern port city of Hai Phong. “I like Trump and I like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Hung didn't seem to care that the two things didn't like each other.
Opinions are the only thing that really matter in the Trump Age, but even those can't be trusted.
Current polls find that a little over half of America disapproves of the orange id as he prepares to take the oath of office. Never one to let anything slide, Trump took to Twitter and urged us to ignore such polls; hadn't every poll before it been wrong about him?
Pollsters rushed to their battle stations to explain that they hadn't ever been wrong—we'd just been misreading their findings. But did anyone listen?
A shattered Democratic Party remains divided about how to respond to Trump given that he basically broke public discourse.
Today, Trump takes office as the only man to have publicly denied that he paid multiple Russian hookers to piss all on him just to ruin the bed his predecessor had slept on. “I'm a germaphobe,” he reminded a roomful of reporters, this month, just minutes after throwing a temper tantrum in front of the entire world.
One could only pity the man for as long as it took to remember that he was responsible for spreading a rumor that a sitting U.S. Senator's father likely conspired to assassinate John F. Kennedy—simply because he is Cuban.
Many Vietnamese people seem satisfied that this doesn't amount to anything but entertainment for them—but they would be wrong.
Consider the fact that Barbara Lee, the only congressional representative pushing legislation to compensate the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange will boycott Trump's inauguration. It's indeed hard to imagine how any self-respecting person would be caught dead in a room with the man, much less collaborate with him.
Only the dumb attempt to extrapolate a clear policy from the tea leaves he's left on cable television—much less the tweets being edited by his limbic cortex.
And, yet, the dumbest prognostications abound.
Consider the following throwaway line from a recent Wall Street Journal article: “The incoming administration could take a more hawkish approach in its China policy, which might be a positive for Vietnam.”
Even if one could make that argument (and the paper didn't) Trump's attitude toward humans in this part of the world harkens back to an era when nuclear-armed destroyers sat in the gulf of Tonkin awaiting the order to vaporize Hanoi.
Trump has talked of strengthening the U.S. relationship with Vietnam, but think about what that actually means.
Trump allowed Taiwan to wander out onto the flimsy tip of an uncharted political limb, only to later tell a group of talking heads on Fox News Sunday that he viewed the destinies of far off non-white nations as nothing more than bargaining chips.
“I fully understand the 'one China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” he said.
Fortunately for us all, Vietnam has survived whoever came before Trump.
I just miss my free entertainment.