In one day, caucus in Iowa, MLK Day and the Emmys | Inquirer

In one day, caucus democracy in Iowa, MLK Day and the Emmys in Hollywood

/ 06:45 AM January 15, 2024

Do they love democracy more in Asia than in the US? We’ll find out if Republicans caucusing in Iowa realize Donald Trump – who is seeking immunity for his presidential actions—is really an enemy of democracy.

It’s just one aspect of a news cycle that forms a thematic confluence of democracy, MLK and the Emmys.

Let’s take democracy first.


Over the weekend in Asia, our AAPI ancestral home, the pro-democracy movement appears strong, as voters in Taiwan have rejected threats from authoritarian Beijing and have elected Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te as its new president. Many Taiwanese abroad, including the US, even flew back to cast their votes. (Think of folks like those in the fictional Netflix series “Brothers Sun.”)

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Meanwhile, in our country, which reportedly knows a thing or two about democracy, the Iowa caucuses are about to show the world how Americans feel about authoritarianism.

Signage with text: Iowa Caucuses 2024

A man walks across the street below a sign for the Iowa Caucuses in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

We might like it more than the Constitution allows.

The front runner in the Republican Party is the former president who claims he should have immunity from criminal liability in America, including the murder of political opponents.

Last week, Federal DC Circuit Judge Florence Y. Pan, coincidentally a New York-born Taiwanese American, asked a Trump lawyer this: “Could a president order Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? That’s an official act.”

Trump lawyer D. John Sauer answered: “He would have to be and would speedily be impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution.”

It’s a big assumption that everyone in the Senate would go along to impeach and convict. After all, a US president with the immunity Trump seeks could also order Seal Team 6 to kill all his opponents on the Senate.


That would be preposterous in a democracy.

So Pan asked the question again: Could a president who ordered Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival, who was not impeached, be subject to criminal prosecution?

The Trump lawyer wanted to say no to be consistent with his defense of the former president. But he was caught in his own absurdity and meekly replied – “a qualified yes.”

It’s the exchange of the political year that makes crystal clear the real intent behind Trump’s push for immunity.

Trump wants carte blanche to do anything we wants. It’s the stuff of kings, autocrats and dictators.

A second-term Trump imagines himself an authoritarian ruler of a perverted democracy like the US’s former colony, the Philippines. That’s where former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted to extrajudicial killings in a government war on drugs as “his only sin.”

Human rights advocates say the number of those killings under Duterte’s reign exceeds 12,000. One of his arrested political opponents said it was nearly 30,000. Duterte is no longer in office but has yet to be held to account.

Judge Pan’s questioning should set off the alarms for all, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Immunity for presidential actions? That would be a license to kill – our democracy.

DeSantis and Haley on Trump’s immunity claim

Trump’s immunity ploy didn’t go unnoticed at last week’s Republican debate in Iowa.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis usually attacks Trump with all the force of a rubber knife. This time DeSantis said front-runner Trump would lose his immunity claim and force Republicans to question if the former president is fit to run for office.

“If Trump is the nominee, it’s going to be about Jan. 6, legal issues, criminal trials,” said DeSantis. In other words, not about policies for the American people.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was more aggressive. She called Trump’s claim exposed by the Seal Team Six question  “absolutely ridiculous.”

Nikki Haley speaking with US flag as backdrop

Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024 in Adel, Iowa. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

“We need to use some common sense here,” Haley said. “You can’t go kill a political rival, and then claim, you know, immunity. . .I think we have to start doing things that are right.”

By that, she meant looking at how Trump has divided our country. “It’s divided over extremes,” she said. “Divided over hatred, it’s divided over the fact that people think that if someone doesn’t agree with you they’re bad.”

Haley said Trump’s leadership brought on chaos and that “we don’t need this chaos anymore.”

But Trump still leads in the latest Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll this weekend, with 48 percent of likely caucus-goers, to Haley’s 20 percent and DeSantis’ 16 percent.

Do Americans really prefer authoritarianism?

Trump drops huge breadcrumbs about his aspirational dictatorship and Iowans seem to be too cold to care. That Seal Team Six question should be firing off lightbulbs in voters’ heads that lead to an abandonment of Trump.

Maybe when Iowans caucus neighbor-to-neighbor, the cult loyalty to Trump will lose out to common sense.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I’ve commented on MLK Day for years. It’s a powerful thing to shut down financial markets, banks, the post office and many government and business offices in your honor.

For a day, a revolution.

Martin Luther King Jr. with arms cross, speaking into microphone

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, answers questions at a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 25, 1962. (AP Photo)

And then it’s back to work and we’re back to dreaming again.

But maybe it would be better in these divided times if we remembered the civil rights leader by simply being civil toward each other. Take it to the extreme if you want. Show genuine love toward a fellow American. Hug even – if you’ve started hugging again.

All the time. OK, just one day.

One day is all that Trump said he’d need, when asked about being a dictator.

Given the moment, I can’t help but think back to Judge Pan’s questioning of Trump lawyers about assassination of political rivals.

Previous presidents knew better than to ask. But that doesn’t mean the government didn’t go after rivals using questionable means.

It wasn’t a hypothetical when in 1962, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover got approval from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to wiretap a close advisor to King suspected of being a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America. The FBI even had files of famed Filipino American author Carlos Bulosan.

Looking back, the FBI going after suspected Communists seems tame compared to what Trump wants to do.

A second term under an immunized Trump would make the president as powerful as any leader in a communist country. Finally, he could look his boyfriend Kim Jong Un eye-to-eye.

Trump’s immunity idea would allow him to target anyone who speaks out or stands in his way. Does that sound like America?

This MLK Day 2024, we’re also weathering the Supreme Court dismantling civil rights programs such as affirmative action. And now, the next phase appears to be the move to reverse diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher ed and the corporate world.

In this election year, the anti-immigration talk is also growing, as Republicans use the Southern Border as a leverage point on every policy issue it considers. It only leads to blaming all America’s problems on immigrants of all ethnicities.

Instead of political hate rhetoric, we could use a lot more civic love on MLK Day 2024.

If it seems bad now, I remember not being all that happy when MLK Day fell on a remarkable moment in 2013.

That year MLK Day came on the second Obama inaugural.

I should have been happier. In retrospect, they were happier times.

The Emmys

Because of the Hollywood strikes, the timing of the Globes and the Emmys are a bit off.

But I’m predicting the TV winners should be the same.

The modern Asian American hero’s journey is on full display in “Beef,” and that should win big for limited series, just as it did at the Globes.

3 Asian American Hollywood celebrities

From left, Steve Yeun, Lee Sung Jin and Ali Wong pose in the press room with the award for best television limited series, anthology series or motion picture made for television for “Beef” at the 81st Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb. But it would be a surprise if it doesn’t win. “Succession” and “The Bear” are in other categories. Would “Dahmer,” the limited series on the cannibal who ate Asian boys, upset “Beef”?

I don’t think so.

Ali Wong, Steven Yeun and Lee Sung Jin should clean up here.

It’s really the first time an Asian American TV project got both community AND the artistic acclaim from the industry during awards season.

The last time Asian Americans hit it big like this was when Alan Yang won in 2016 telling comedian Aziz Ansari’s story.

That was eight years ago. A lot has changed. And a lot has stayed the same. But diversity is real, Asians are showing up on screens big and small. And all just as the courts are trying to reverse the impact of diversity elsewhere in society.

We just don’t have days like this, when MLK Day, the election year’s first votes in Iowa and the Emmys take place.

Maybe we’ll have something to cheer about in America when the day is done.

We will if people understand what Trump’s immunity claim really means for our country, and our democracy.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for’s USA Channel. He does a micro-talk-show on

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TAGS: Donald Trump, Emmy Awards, Emmys, Martin Luther King Jr., US elections
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