Who’s laughing now?
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
There were few surprises in October. The possibility of a U.S.-North Korea summit was long dismissed. But there had been some expectations for a vaccine for Covid-19 by now. President Donald Trump has been pressing for a vaccine before the Nov. 3 presidential election with hopes of gaining the upper hand over his Democrat opponent Joe Biden. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted a Covid-19 vaccine might be available by April at best.
Trump’s experience with Covid-19 was more of a dark comedy. The U.S. president who rarely wore a mask even when his country produced more than 70,000 infection cases a day used his own illness in the campaign, calling it a “blessing in disguise” to tout the U.S. medication that put him back to work in less than a week. He declared he was symptom-free and roamed around for days to portray himself as a kind of superman proven invincible against the “Chinese” virus. Trump once again tried to maneuver things to his advantage by finding scapegoats.
China is the best target for his election campaign. According to Bob Woodward’s book “Rage,” Trump refrained from referring to Covid-19 as a Chinese disease only once. It was when his son-in-law and White House Adviser Jared Kushner was using his connections to obtain mask supplies from China. Eventually, Trump resumed calling the infectious disease a Chinese virus. The book cited numerous cases when non-scientific reasoning affected measures to combat the pandemic.
Trump boasts Americans could have died in much greater numbers if it were not for him. “Me” dominates all affairs for Trump. Whether a narcissistic personality disorder demonizing anyone who gets in his way will charm voters once again remains to be seen. But bafflingly, Trump somehow ends up getting his way in America.
A different dark comedy has been playing out in South Korea. The cast is not as provocative or high-profile, but the play itself has all the tragic and farcical ingredients. The hero is Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, whose other title is deputy prime minister for the economy, who is the latest victim of the real estate crisis as the result of catastrophic policy failures. Hong has been forced to join the masses in a desperate search for a home amid an extreme shortage in rental units.
Hong lives in a leased apartment while renting out his own home. He has been caught up in the market dilemma in which landlords cannot sell or rent out units as policies hamper both regulations and taxes. His tragedy best explains how terribly the government has failed in its real estate policy. The so-called tenants act only pushed tenants out of rental units and punished landlords if they did not follow the government’s preferred ways. The act was rubber-stamped without a proper review. The government claims it is working on another supplementary measure. It claims confusion is inevitable during any transitional phase. The boy has cried wolf far too many times now.
The farce started when the presidential chief of staff ordered public officials to sell any spare apartments they owned. Public servants should not be engaged in real estate speculation, but they are citizens of a democratic state who are entitled to rights to wealth and private property, and who should not be faced with the ultimatum of selling off their housing assets cheaply or otherwise losing their careers. How much will their asset sales help to stabilize real estate prices? The government threw the same ultimatum onto the general people, who face a tax bombardment if they do not follow senior public officials and sell their extra homes. People with single properties were hurt as well, and the market became dysfunctional.
The dark comedies in both countries stem from self-righteousness and bias in policy-making on top of stubbornness in leadership. The joke is on them after their failures blew up in their faces. We would like to ask: Who’s laughing now?