A second-generation Japanese American, Mineta, 87, has had a successful career in government and politics in the U.S., yet he is concerned that President Donald Trump’s divisive words are undermining America’s gains.
In an interview with The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward on November 9, Mineta also talked about the need for greater bipartisan cooperation in U.S. Congress now that the Democrats and Republicans each control one of the two chambers.
Mineta emphasized that U.S.-Japan ties have remained strong, even as the attitude of China, South Korea, and North Korea toward Japan has deteriorated.
He noted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s quick decision to visit President-elect Trump in New York right after the latter’s election in 2016 “was just a stroke of genius.” By being “the first foreign leader to call on President Trump,” Abe “cemented [his] relationship” with the new American leader.
He also emphasized, “I think the Japan-U.S. relationship is a very strong one.” He added, “Between the United States and Japan, it’s going to be, what China does to Japan, what South Korea does to Japan, what North Korea does to Japan, that might affect the U.S.-Japan relationship, but the basic U.S.-Japan relationship is strong."
Domestically, he mentioned that members of the U.S. Congress have had less opportunity to interact with the other party's politicians, resulting in a "polarized" Congress. He underscored the importance of having lawmakers aim for "bipartisan" cooperation.
During World War II, Mineta and his family were removed from their California home and forcibly relocated in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center — a concentration camp located in Wyoming. Their internment was based on Executive Order 9066 issued by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, which had the effect of relocating nearly every person of Japanese ancestry.
In 1988, the U.S. Congress, with bipartisan approval, enacted the Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledged the injustice of the war-era internment and apologized for it. The movement to enact this law was led by Mineta, at the time a Democrat Congressman from California, together with Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and other lawmakers of Japanese American ancestry. They worked with Democrat and Republican colleagues in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Mineta said the leadership of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) visited Washington, D.C., in April 1979 to meet with four Japanese American members of Congress, all of whom were Democrats: Mineta and Inouye, along with Hawaii Senator Spark Matsunaga and Congressman Bob Matsui. The JACL members’ visit was to deliver a petition which sought an apology for the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and compensation for those who had been forced from their homes, most often losing their property.
Mineta recalled, “Senator Inouye said, ‘It’s going to be tough to get that done’ because basically most Americans did not know about the wartime relocation and internment of Japanese Americans.”
Mineta said he had believed that cooperating with Republicans on the process of lawmaking was a necessity. He recounted: “On the Senate side, Senator Spark Matsunaga was working very hard on a bill. And a friend of mine whom I met at Heart Mountain [internment camp], Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson (R), also worked on the bill. He worked on the Senate side with Senator Inouye (D), Senator Matsunaga (D), and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R).”
Mineta hopes lawmakers today will find a way to have bipartisan cooperation during the Trump administration, as he and his colleagues did then.
He mentioned the result of midterm elections in November, in which the Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives. He said: “The House and Senate will be more polarized. Democrats take over the House of Representatives and some of those chairmen will exercise their subpoena powers.” He added, “[It will be] stiffer and [will] get tougher and non-cooperative. So, I think the divide will get worse. I am not happy about that.”
Mineta also pointed out President Trump’s words against immigrants in the U.S. He said that many of those targeted are “U.S.-born young people,” but that President Trump calls them “invaders.” He emphasized that he personally thinks the U.S. is a land of immigrants, while President doesn’t think so. “He (President Trump) has already said things to divide us more than to unify us,” Mineta said.
Subsequently, he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1953, he joined the United States Army and served as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea. He was appointed to San Jose City Council and then became mayor of this major California city.
He served as a Member of Congress from 1975 to 1995.
In 2000, he was selected by President Bill Clinton (D) as Secretary of Commerce, serving until 2001, and was also sworn in as Secretary of Transportation that same year under President George W. Bush (R).
When terrorists attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, then-Transportation Secretary Mineta ordered all 4,638 planes in U.S. airspace to be grounded until further notice.
(Click here to read the related story in Japanese.)
Author: Mizuki Okada