By MATTHEW ORMSETH, Rafu Contributor
(Published Jan. 21, 2017)
Donald J. Trump lost the Asian American and the youth vote, but one prominent young JA cast his vote for the newly inaugurated president: Jeremy Yamaguchi, the Placentia city councilmember and former mayor who at 22 became the youngest mayor in city history.
Yamaguchi, now 28, said it was Trump’s business background and willingness to commit political iconoclasm to bring about change that won him over, along with voters across the country.
“Donald Trump is the change this country has probably needed for a while,” he said. “People were tired of hearing things and not having anything done, tired of being told one thing and getting a different thing. I think Donald Trump was a response to that.”
Growing up, Yamaguchi’s family owned an industrial insulation business, and the afternoons he spent there after school afforded him a look into how government policies affect small businesses.
Yamaguchi identifies as a fiscal conservative, but calls himself a “millennial conservative” when it comes to social issues.
“There’s a silent millennial conservatism push that realizes that the older generations of Republicans have a tendency to eat their own,” he said. “If you’re not the cookie-cutter representation of a Republican, they want nothing to do with you.”
For example, millennial conservatives have friends who are gay, he said, something older generations of conservatives still consider taboo.
“To go out and ask a Republican millennial to go against their friend in order to hold the party line, I think is silly,” he said.
Yamaguchi’s backing of Trump raised eyebrows in his family, most of which is “liberal Democratic,” he said. Family members were concerned by Trump’s exclusionary rhetoric, but most of their concerns were about “his perceptions, versus his policies.”
“From my perspective, I think JAs are very sensitive when it comes to social and personal issues,” he said. “I think that the voting record on a macro level…shows that people in the JA community vote for how they feel, instead of looking at the business side.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s just Democrats do a lot better job of it,” he added.
Exit polls show that only 29 percent of Asian Americans voted for Trump, compared to 65 percent for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Many JAs were quick to condemn the president-elect when he equivocated over the incarceration of JAs during World War II in a 2015 interview with Time, and again this past November when a prominent Trump supporter said that the camps offered legal precedent for a registry of Muslim citizens.
“We must not use the wrongdoing perpetrated against Japanese Americans during World War II as a justification for the mistreatment of Muslim Americans,” the Japanese American Citizens League wrote in a statement.
Asked whether he would implement a registry of Muslim citizens after the Paris terrorist attacks last November, Trump told NBC News he “would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”
Yamaguchi said concerns about Trump’s promises to implement discriminatory practices of the same ilk as the wartime camps are overblown, and that the president-elect lacks the authority to roll out those practices, even if he wanted to.
“I think it’s rhetoric,” he said. “We have a lot of checks and balances in place, and that’s not going to happen again. Maybe the fear this time would be a Middle Eastern group held without cause, but I think he’s got more checks and balances on him than they had in the ’40s, for sure.”
“And with the media and the transparency of the Internet, it’s a lot harder to do stuff like that without public scrutiny,” he added.
Yamaguchi was encouraged by Trump’s picks for his Cabinet, many of whom have backgrounds in business, but said he’s “kind of torn” about their lack of political experience.
“He’s definitely brought in some new faces to politics, which is good and bad,” he said. “I welcome the change from the party bosses and the establishment.
With that being said, Yamaguchi found Trump’s irreverence for time-honored political formalities off-putting, and said he wishes the president-elect would be “a little more of a statesman.”
“The rules of decorum are kind of going out the window with Trump,” he said. “When there’s a bit of variance in the respect for office, that’s when I want to look the other way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the office of mayor or the office of president — they all deserve respect.”
But he also said Trump’s brash style and disregard for the rules of the game could bring about more immediate change.
He pointed to Trump’s showdown with Boeing over the cost of Air Force One as evidence that he plans to follow through on promises to cut wasteful spending and run the country more like a business.
In December, Trump tweeted that the plane’s “costs are out of control, more than $4 billion.” “Cancel order!” he added.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg met with Trump in January, and reported that the company is working “to provide a better airplane at a lower cost.”
“That to me shows responsibility and action, almost immediately,” Yamaguchi said. “If he can already influence change before he’s even in office, then I think he’s on the right track to bring businesses back and restart the economy.”