Debate fearmongers should celebrate the end of the Chinese Exclusion Act and rethink politics of fear
If the fifth Republican debate made you feel fearful and anxiety ridden, here’s
something to celebrate instead.
On Dec. 17, 1943, 72 years ago this week, President Franklin Roosevelt signed
the Magnuson Act, which repealed the Chinese Exclusion Laws. They were those
nasty laws that came out of hateful rhetoric from the U.S. Senate, where the
Chinese were called a “degraded and inferior race” that posed a threat to this
country. Add a few epithets and comparisons to vermin and you get the picture.
The result was a ban on immigration that lasted more than 60 years.
Heard something similar lately?
In a twist, the law was repealed by the same man who unfortunately would forget
his history lesson and later incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans.
But the U.S. would ultimately apologize for that too.
It’s what I call the U.S. political Fear Cycle. Asian Americans have been
through it. And Muslims are in it now.
Still, as one debate participant called it the other night, this week’s GOP
debate was the Christmas Debate, the one we’ll talk all about at parties or at
the dinner table where someone will no doubt invoke Allah in the spirit of
To make Tuesday’s Republican debate more seasonably cheery and merry, I tweeted
out my idea for an Asian American drinking game.
If Asian Americans ever got mentioned by name, that would be our cue to sip,
swig, or gulp the recreationally toxic beverage of our choice. If in short order
there was a sudden glow about the nation lit up by the Asian Flush, then
certainly we would have done the pollsters a favor. Asian American engagement
would be so obvious.
Of course, if we were stone cold sober at the end, and there was no national
glow, that would tell politicos something too.
Even if you took a sip at the mention of the victims of San Bernardino, say, in
silent memory of Tin Nguyen, and if you took another shot when it was pointed
out that the gunman Syed Farook was a Pakistani American born in the USA, you
still wouldn’t have needed a designated driver at the end.
It was that kind of sobering debate.
The politics of fear tend to do that.
A friend suggested it might even be better if we weren’t mentioned.
But that doesn’t make sense.
In the name of inclusion, it’s important for any person who wants to be
president to acknowledge that he or she knows Asian Americans are part of this
great country. This is the time to remind candidates that if they want to make
America safe for all Americans, they’d better mean all of us.
Especially now, after Donald Trump’s idea to ban non-American Muslims has become
a kind of tough guy litmus test that people are eating up.
In new polls, the majority of Republicans continue to back Trump and even like
So, of course, Trump, defended his stance. But then he ventured beyond potential
immigrants and got specific about family members who were American.
In a video clip, Josh Jacob of Georgia Tech asked this question: “Recently
Donald Trump mentioned we must kill the families of ISIS members. However, this
violates the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants in
international law. So my question is, how would intentionally killing innocent
civilians set us apart from ISIS?”
Good question. Trump’s answer?
“We have to be much tougher,” Trump said. “We have to be much stronger than
we’ve been. We have people that know what is going on. You take a look at just
the attack in California the other day. There were numerous people, including
the mother, that knew what was going on. They saw a pipe bomb sitting on the
floor. They saw ammunition all over the place. They knew exactly what was going
on. When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes that
were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were
sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia. They knew what was going on. They
went home and they wanted to watch their boyfriends on television. I would be
very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they
may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about
their families’ lives.”
And there was applause.
If I heard Trump correctly, he didn’t refute what the questioner stated. In
fact, it sounded like he was justifying getting tough on a known terrorist’s
family members in America.
I suppose that would make the second coming of internment camps in America seem
quite appealing by comparison.
Unless, of course, you believe in a real democracy.
So who stood up for the Constitution? Why, the man with so little excitement in
his campaign, they’ve replaced his last name with an exclamation point.
And boy, was he mad.
“This is another example of the lack of seriousness,” said Jeb!. “Look, this
is–this is troubling because we’re at war. They’ve declared war on us and we
need to have a serious strategy to destroy ISIS. But the idea that that is a
solution to this is just–is just crazy. It makes no sense to suggest this…That
is not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through.
That can lead our country to safety and security.”
Trump replied with more plain spoken billionaire tough talk.
“Look, the problem is we need toughness,” said Trump. “Honestly, I think Jeb is
a very nice person. He’s a very nice person. But we need tough people. We need
toughness. We need intelligence and we need tough.”
He used some derivative of tough four times in less than 30 seconds.
But that is called “clash” and that’s what makes a debate.
It even led to this exchange. when Jeb asserted himself while Trump was talking.
TRUMP: Am I talking or are you talking, Jeb?
BUSH: I’m talking right now. I’m talking.
TRUMP: You can go back. You’re not talking. You interrupted me.
BUSH: September 30th you said…
TRUMP: Are you going to apologize, Jeb? No. Am I allowed to finish?
BLITZER: Just one at a time, go ahead…
TRUMP: Excuse me, am I allowed to finish?
BLITZER: Go ahead, Mr. Trump.
BUSH: A little of your own medicine there, Donald.
TRUMP: … again…
BLITZER: Governor Bush, please.
TRUMP: I know you’re trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it’s not working very well.
BLITZER: One at a time.
TRUMP: Look, look, look. We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate. We can’t allow that to happen. We need strength. We don’t have it. When Jeb comes out and he talks about the border, and I saw it and I was witness to it, and so was everyone else, and I was standi ng there, “they come across as an act of love,” he’s saying the same thing right now with radical Islam.
And we can’t have that in our country. It just won’t work. We need strength.
BLITZER: Governor Bush.
BUSH: Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen. (APPLAUSE)
Just one of the debate’s key Bush/Trump moments. They clashed. Then the recess
Cruz and Rubio also clashed, notably on immigration and on who exactly has been
for a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented and who has not. Rubio said he
is and Cruz was. Cruz said he wasn’t. The gloves stayed on for now.
But the clashes seemed to determine the four Republicans to watch going
On the politics of fear meter, from least fear-mongering to most, it’s Bush,
Rubio, Cruz, then Trump. But of course in popularity, the ranking is just the
Let’s hope that beyond the polls, the Republican candidates read some history.
America has enough in the books to let future leaders know what happens when
politics get stuck in the fear cycle.
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.