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Known for collecting numerous anecdotes of prominent figures, U.S. publisher Bennett Cerf, who died in 1971, wrote the following in one of his books:

If the ability of a president is measured by how many election pledges he fulfills, James Polk best demonstrated presidential abilities. (From “Chotto Waraeru Hanashi” [Stories to make you chuckle], a collection of Cerf’s writings published by Bungeishunju Ltd. and translated by Shinpei Tokiwa.) During his presidential campaign, Polk pledged to territorialize California, settle a border dispute with Britain, lower tariffs and retire from politics after only one term. After taking office as the 11th U.S. president, Polk fulfilled every one of his pledges.

Polk was not a major candidate when he announced his bid for the presidency. And he tirelessly strove to make good on his pledges. He is comparable on these two points to U.S. President Donald Trump. But that is all they have in common.

In the first place, if election pledges are unjustifiable, respect cannot be earned even when the pledges are fulfilled. The international community has been shocked by Trump’s announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Will such a move torpedo the Middle East peace process? Will it trigger acts of terrorism? Trump is said to have made the pledge to a Jewish organization that supported him on the campaign trail. When foreign affairs are manipulated for domestic politics, what we are dealing with is no longer a matter of presidential ability.

Trump sparks uproar whenever he references campaign pledges regarding the construction of a border wall, immigration policy and restrictions on entry to the United States, but these have yet to result in conflicts between countries or ethnic groups. This time, however, the consequence of his decision remains to be seen.

The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Dec. 8 issue.

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