23 August 2017

Guam wanted diplomacy, got wild statements

Image result for Guam

by Robert Underwood 

Robert Underwood is president of the University of Guam and Guam’s former delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.

An old joke from childhood features a mother telling her son, “I told you a million times, don’t exaggerate!” Given fake news, alternative facts and the instantaneous nature of social media and news coverage, I suppose we should just get used to the fact that people exaggerate. This is a polite way of saying people lie.

President Donald Trump told Gov. Eddie Calvo he was behind us (Guam) 1,000 percent, in an effort to reassure us the U.S. has our back. This was after Kim Jung Un responded to Trump’s “fire and fury” comment with a specific threat on our island. Later in the conversation, Trump told the governor our tourism would go up tenfold, which is another way of saying 1,000 percent.

This is 2,000 percent worth of overstatement designed to make us feel good. Imagine if the conversation had gone four minutes.

The problem is these are mathematical impossibilities. While some say these things in ordinary conversation, it seems less dignified for a president to say them. Sure, there is banter and overstatement. But when wild statements are repeated, the wildness overtakes everything else. If the head of a government or business consistently spoke this way, it would create instability.

It was inevitable the conversation would become an object of humor. This isn’t because what we are experiencing is funny. It’s because the wild exaggeration about increasing tourism was silly.

Having people come to Guam to report on impending doom is not the right kind of attention getter. It was featured in cartoons saying Guam is a “blast.” Some pundit’s conversations referred to it, not because reassuring Guam is a joke, but because the exaggerated statement overwhelmed the seriousness of the moment.

Words do matter. Tone does matter.

Some people have found comfort in those words. Others sigh and say this is how Trump treats all people. A few have become enraged at the cavalier treatment of our island.

We wanted to hear diplomacy was at work and that armadas were on their way or already here. Many are tired of being the “tip of the spear,” especially when the person holding the spear uses wild language.

Kim makes wild statements all of the time. He uses language which may carry punch in Korean but seems bizarre in English. I heard the other day the U.S. is a lump and North Korea will turn it into jelly. I guess if we are wilder (fire and fury the likes of which has never been seen before), it tips the scale in our favor.

But Trump just praised Kim for his “wise decision” to stand down. Earlier this year Trump called Kim a “smart cookie.” I don’t know whether this is another exaggeration by Trump or he thinks Kim is really a wise man.

I am just glad we got through the week with no missiles. We will await next week’s exaggerations. In the meantime, enjoy the ride of international media attention. It could increase the value of your property tenfold. One fold would be sufficient.

I know the military understands the value of the property called Guam. Maybe we should start getting a relationship equal to our value.