Trump victory hurts (even in Ho Chi Minh City)

By Calvin Godfrey - Nhung Nguyen   November 9, 2016 | 05:08 pm GMT+7
Trump victory hurts (even in Ho Chi Minh City)
Hillary Clinton supporters cried over the election result at a watch party organized by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi on November 9, 2016. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Saigon’s bright enthusiasm for all-things America vanished under an infamous toupee.

Starting at 8 a.m. this morning, bright-eyed and hopeful Americans filled the GEM Center in Ho Chi Minh City.

McDonald’s handed out warm apple pies, two at a time, as well as red white and blue cardboard top hats. Members of the U.S. consular staff stood on hand in suits, urging visitors to grab Dunkin’ Donuts dusted, alternatively, with fruity pebbles and pork floss.

A muted Fox News played on a giant screen occupying the right section of the room, while the left played both audio and visual content streaming CNN coverage on the left.

Cardboard cutouts of the candidates stood near the stage waiting for selfies.

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Two Vietnamese students had fun at the beginning of the event at Gem Center. At the end, many Clinton supporters left brokenhearted. Photo by VnExpress/Nhung Nguyen

Bao and Phuc, a pair of university students who had mastered American accents in Ho Chi Minh City, wandered through the crowd asking people who they voted for.

In many ways, the atmosphere echoed the naive enthusiasm that filled the same room in May, when President Obama rapped with members of ticketed audience, many of whom spent hours in the rain to catch sight of him.

“We love America,” said Bao, when asked why he had come to the event space for the morning. Like his girlfriend, Bao had voted for Clinton who took a 79.14 percent lead in a virtual poll.

When asked if they would continue to love America if Donald Trump were president, they wrinkled their adorable noses.

“No,” they said shaking their heads. “Then I think we’d just go to Canada.”

As the day progressed, the mood darkened.

Thinh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American software and tech industry entrepreneur who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City since 2002, said he left at 1 p. m. when it became clear that the man who campaigned on tearing up the much-anticipated Trans-Pacific Partnership and many of America’s long-standing security commitments had won. 

“I’ve watched a lot of elections from here, but this was by far the worst” said Thinh, who serves as the president of the Democrats Abroad. “A lot of Vietnamese were pulling for Hillary Clinton; I didn’t see anyone cheering at all.”

Lisa Truong-Marchetto and her wife, Nic Truong-Marchetto, stood gazing in disbelief at the projection before them.

New Hampshire, the small New England state where they’d been married remained a toss-up.

“We are about to welcome our first child into the world,” said Lisa. “What a scary prospect this is -- bringing a child into this political climate.”

By 2:30 p.m., The Guardian had called the election for Trump sucking the oxygen from the GEM Center. Members of the Democrats Abroad audibly speculated about whether they would gather that evening at a downtown nightclub for a party slated to begin at 7 p.m.

“At this point, I feel like coming back to Vietnam was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Daniel Hoai Nguyen another Vietnamese-American.

Beyond the turmoil in the crowd, many scrambled to put a brave face on what America’s nominally business-savvy president-elect would mean for actual business.

Fred Burke, an American corporate lawyer with over 20 years of experience in Vietnam, stepped off a plane in Hong Kong and into a business class lounge where many teetered near tears. Burke thought about what he would tell his daughter. And he thought about what he would tell Asian businessmen.

On the one-hand, Trump’s victory hadn’t locked the country into a set of policies he’d tossed out during his campaign. Campaign slogans aren’t legally-binding, like the U.K.’s vote to exit the European Union.

“All we’ve done is elect a man who can change his mind on a whim,” Burke said via telephone.

In a subsequent email, he outlined three reasons that the election’s outcome might actually advance the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

First, control of the house and senate now sits in the hands of a party that’s historically pro-trade. Second, “red state” representatives who stand to benefit from the deal no longer have any reason to fight it. Third, there are plenty of other trade deals to promote business between Vietnam and the U.S. in the interim.

“In the early hours following the conclusion of the U.S. election, President-elect Trump struck a note of reconciliation and unity,” he wrote. “Let’s hope he can follow through on the same tone.”

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