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ANALYSIS

South Koreans to Americans: We'll teach you how to impeach a president

By ANNA FIFIELD AND YOONJUNG SEO | The Washington Post | Published: May 19, 2017

SEOUL — South Koreans know how to impeach a president. Seventeen weeks of peaceful protest, combined with a parliamentary vote and a landmark court decision, led to the dismissal of Park Geun-hye in March amid a massive corruption scandal. Park is now behind bars and on trial for 18 charges, including bribery and extortion.

Moon Jae-in, a down-to-earth liberal who could not be more different from the aloof, conservative Park, took office earlier this month and has quickly won widespread approval. His support ratings have hit astronomical levels this week, with 87 percent of those polled by Gallup Korea saying they think he's going to do well as president (compared to the 4 percent or 5 percent support rate that Park was recording at the beginning of this year.

Now, South Koreans are becoming obsessed with the political drama emanating from Washington.

When you search "Trump" on Naver, South Korea's biggest internet search site, the auto-fill suggests: "Trump impeachment," then "Trump Russia." Other suggested searches include "Trump FBI," "Trump impeachment reason," and "Trump Comey."

Blogs are full of commentary on the similarities between Park and Trump — both took over the mantles of their fathers, both have "communication difficulties" — and the differences in the two countries' political systems.

But online — where young South Koreans spend an inordinate amount of time — plenty of people are offering to help Americans follow in their footsteps.

This is quite a remarkable development since it was only 30 years ago that South Korea became a democracy while the United States, well, the United States considers itself an exemplar of democracy. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, devoted a considerable amount of energy to trying to export American democracy to countries run by dictators.

Posting a story about Trump and the FBI director he fired, James Comey, on her blog, a "netizen" called Fatima20 wrote: "Maybe we can export our impeachment know-how to the U.S.?"

On a popular Internet debate board on Daum, a rival to Naver, Kang Shin-ae wrote that South Koreans could even make money from this new export.

"We need to export South Korean knowledge about impeaching a president and how to remove the president peacefully without shedding single drop of blood," Kang wrote, pasting a story headlined "Trump impeachment possibility soars to 60 percent after firing of FBI chief."

"Considering the high demand, maybe we can charge at least $1 billion??" Kang wrote. Funnily enough, this is the exact amount of money that Trump said he wanted South Korea to pay for the advanced missile defense system that the United States had been urging South Korea to host, to fend off North Korea. Park's government eventually agreed, but the deal was that South Korea would supply the land and the United States would supply the equipment.

One Twitter user, @TC_thunder, was more generous than Kang. "Soon, we might be able to export candlelight vigils and the South Korean impeachment process to the U.S. for free of charge. . .. I hope the first country to import our candlelight vigils will be the United States."

The uprising against Park began with huge candlelit demonstrations in a central plaza in Seoul, within earshot of the presidential Blue House where Park was holed up. The demonstrations were festive, with families holding picnics and babies in strollers.

Another Twitter user, Kwon Hye-kyung, agreed. "Candlelight vigils, impeachment, the gate for exporting them has been open," Kwon wrote, posting a story headlined: "More serious than Watergate. . .Trump impeachment sentiment increasing."

Others pointed out the political hurdles in the United States that South Korea didn't face. "The Republicans control Congress and there is still a year and a half until the midterm election, so there is no chance Trump will actually be impeached," wrote Lee Sang-shin.

But a U.S.-based Korean using the handle @FeignInnocent cautioned that Trump might do something extreme if he faced impeachment. "Trump is unpredictable and God knows what he might do if the impeachment movement begins. Like bombing North Korea," he wrote.

Elsewhere in the United States, a Korean American who writes the "Ask a Korean" blog and has been writing indefatigably in English about the Park scandal and the Moon victory.

In a 17-part Twitter thread Thursday, he translated the lessons from the South Korean impeachment for American opponents of Trump, giving them a to-do list.

"WIN. ELECTIONS. Impeachment in late 2016 was possible only because liberals won the legislature election in the early 2016. At the end of the day, impeachment cannot be done without winning Congress," he wrote.

"What finally turned the tide irrevocably was the massive civic protests, the famous candlelight protests that went on for 17 weeks in a row."

Fifield reported from Tokyo and Seo from Seoul.

Moon Jae-In, left, and his wife Kim Jung-Sook wave on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 after casting their ballots at a polling station in Seoul, South Korea.
LEE JAE-WON/AFLO/ZUMA PRESS/TNS

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