No American president – indeed, no modern celebrity – has so monopolised our attention as Donald Trump. Rarely is the T-word far from the centre of conversation and consciousness; it’s a trigger for humour, outrage, despair and mystification. A dollop of the Donald brings effervescence to any discussion. Trump has become the harbinger of so much that alarms us in our contemporary world: populism, political polarisation, crass consumerism, middle-class despair, the decay of respect and moral standards.
Except in Asia. Obsession with Trump is a Western phenomenon. Of course, the forty-fifth American president is discussed in Asian societies, but not with the same intensity as in the West. To travel to Asia is to enter – blissfully – a Trump-muted zone, free from the saturation coverage of every tweet and micro-detail in the White House soap opera. The American president is spoken about, but in a business-like, unemotional way – and then the conversation moves on. Talking about US foreign policy in Jakarta, New Delhi or Manila reminds one of what such discussion was like in our society before Trump was elected.