Meeting Mister Dao

Donald Trump From a Vietnamese Perspective

From Chapter 2 of Always Faithful: Returning to Vietnam:

“The hotel had been renamed the Continental Palace during the Vietnam War years. It was closed in 1976, reopened in 1986, and fully restored by 1989 under its original name, the Hotel Continental. And that was where our group gathered on the afternoon of our first full day in Vietnam.
We spent several hours in the hotel lounge conversing with a gentleman who grew up in Saigon and was twelve when the war ended in 1975. Learning that we were accompanied by a film crew, he stated his unwillingness to be on camera, but agreed to my recording our discussion. In our email exchange following the trip, he asked that he not be quoted in my book. He did not explain why, but I assured him I would respect his wishes. We reached a compromise when I suggested including our conversation in the book but identifying him as Mr. Dao.”
Reflecting back on everything our group learned about modern-day Vietnam, the most informative part of the entire visit was clearly our conversation with Mr. Dao, an intellectual whose grasp of the English language required no assistance from our interpreter. Though he never explained his unwillingness to be identified by name, a recent news report might offer a clue. Nguyễn Quốc Đức Vượng, a 28 year old pro-democracy advocate, was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by three years probation for criticizing the government and the communist regime on Facebook. After a three-hour trial, Nguyen was found guilty of “making, storing, distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in violation of Art 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Nguyễn discussed issues such as land seizures and political prisoners. During a livestream video,  he said: “I am not certain that the entire state apparatus is corrupt, but I am 100 percent certain that those who have been involved in corruption are Communist Party members. Vietnam only allows one single party and does not allow any competing opposition.” Considering he also expressed support for Hong Kong protesters opposed to the extradition bill to China law, Nguyen’s prison sentence might seem reasonable to folks such as LeBron James and others enriched by the Chinese government. 
I doubt that anyone who has read the complete transcript of our conversation with Mr. Dao in my book would interpret anything he said as critical of his government or the communist regime. But I can understand his reluctance to take any unnecessary risks.
Toward the end of our conversation, Mr. Dao remarked, “By the way, to change the topic, nowadays I hear about a lot of people–particularly Democrats—who do not like President Trump. But when he’s abroad, particularly in certain countries, he’s really well admired because of his shrewdness in negotiations and the way he looks at things. He may seem unpredictable, but to me personally, he is a master of the game.” He went on to say, “You can probably guess why we in Vietnam like President Trump. First and foremost is the China factor. China has invaded us and is occupying our islands in the East Sea, commonly known as the South China Sea. They are even building artificial islands over there, to name but a few. We treasure our independence and sovereignty. And that exactly was what President Trump appeared to espouse in his remarks at the 2017 APEC Summit in Danang. Living next door to a giant neighbor who has threatened and encroached on our sovereignty on many occasions, we appreciate anyone who stands up against China’s chauvinism and expansionism.”
I am not aware of the political views of each and every member of our group, but I do know that it included some Trump-haters as well as some Trump-lovers. As for myself, I am neither. In 2016 I voted for Jill Stein simply because she was neither the Republican candidate, whom I thought of as a narcissistic fascist, nor the Democratic candidate, whom I thought of as the corrupt, war-mongering narcissist. Since then, I’ve amended my view of Trump. I regard him as a demagogue, but not necessarily a fascist. What disturbs me about the Trump phenomenon in America is the complete lack of honest dialog on the subject. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and in my humble opinion, Trump’s stance toward China is credit-worthy. Our guide and translator, Kyle Horst, elaborated on Mr. Dao’s point of view with the following:
“I just want to say this. I’ve lived and worked in D.C. for 37 years. Regardless of what anyone says, we have a one-party system. I am a political atheist. I didn’t vote for Trump. I don’t like him. But he’s the first president in decades to have a rational policy on China. The first president. And who is the main beneficiary of his rational policy outside U.S. borders? Vietnam…Trump is not doing this on his own. He has some good advisers. Some of these guys, like Lighthizer and Navarro, had been out in the wilderness for twenty-plus years, writing their books. They wrote this Master thesis-type paper showing how China has completely attacked, eroded, undercut, stolen all the American high-tech products over the past twenty years. This thing could have been published in 1998 or 2003 or 2008. It wasn’t until 2018 that these guys who had all the facts were given a place at the table by President Trump. They had been totally sidelined by Obama who would rely on his 38-year-old Ph.D. pals. Part of Trump’s genius is getting out of the way and letting the shooters do the shooting.”
I found it amazing that I had traveled 10,000 miles to experience an honest conversation about Donald Trump. I’ll end with this exchange between Mr. Dao and Gene Cleaver, one of the anti-Trump individuals in the group:
Gene Cleaver: Well, there’s more than that aspect, of what to like or not like. Relative to Vietnam, and relative to your aspect, that might be good, and I don’t disagree with that. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying about Korea, or China, or Vietnam. But I do disagree with other things. You know, a president or a person is not judged by only one thing. So I can have my opinions about Trump when I think he’s doing something wrong in other areas.
Mr. Dao: I absolutely agree with you, Gene, that a president might have some policies that many agree with while others do not. That’s always expected. But I feel like I have to be cautious when I see the media coverage. Nowadays whenever I turn on CNN, which is available here in Vietnam, it’s all Trump-bashing. I never see anything good about Trump on CNN at all. Then they lose credibility to me. Then you have Fox News. It’s all about Trump-praising. Then it’s not credible either.
Gene Cleaver: I completely agree. I think the media has become a prime mover of hate in our country. People watch one or the other and we become more and more divided.
Mr. Dao: Take immigration, for example. I don’t oppose migrants. But I expect them to enter my country legally. Which country would not? I would not want Vietnam to be in-fluxed by illegal immigrants.
Gene Cleaver: But you’re not.
Mr. Dao: We have been though.
Kyle Horst: That’s right. In the 70’s and early 80’s when Cambodia was collapsing, tens of thousands of Cambodians were migrating to Vietnam. Vietnam never got the credit they deserved for how they handled that.

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