On the race question, Donald Trump, Democrats, and why not an Asian American debate?


Is Donald Trump a racist?

That was a great first-round made-for-TV question from reporter Karen Tumulty at Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Miami, put on by Univision, the Washington Post and carried by CNN.


I kept wondering if anyone would have had the guts to ask any Southern Dixiecrat such a blunt question during the civil rights era battles?

Or if anyone posed that question about McKinley or Taft as they pushed for an Imperial America in the Philippines?

The question of Donald Trump’s racism is indicative of where his campaign is, and where this country is at this moment.

Of course, it’s totally appropriate.

Trump can practically seal the GOP nomination with a win in Florida, a place that aside from Texas is one of the rare places where the campaign looks more like America’s future than America’s past.

Few states with so much at stake this political year have had an electorate below 60 percent white (59.7 percent according to the Census). Texas had 48.3 percent, but it went for its home state senator Ted Cruz. Florida is more critical at this point in the campaign.


The demographics in Florida call out for the racism question.

It’s a state where people of color are fighting above their national weight class.

Hispanics are 22.7 percent of the electorate vs 15.3 percent nationwide

African Americans are 14.8 percent vs 12.5 percent nationwide.

Only Asian Americans are the not-so-model minority, well below the national norm, just 3.1 percent vs. 6 percent nationally.

Compare Florida to Hawaii, where Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were nearly 50 percent of the electorate.

So the racism question is fair.

It’s also no softball.

In the debate context, it’s more like a pinata you are allowed to whack while un-blindfolded, so that we all get some candy early.

Or even more cynical than that, it was like putting a big Trump steak on a hook and asking famished carnivores to devour it at will. Only this was Trump himself being fed to the lions.

If you answered, “Hell, yes!” from your couch at home, that’s the reason you aren’t running for president.

Trump has not just tapped into the angry voters already disillusioned by the politics of the day, he makes us all angry by the emotionally-charged things he says.

That’s what makes him good TV. Ratings, votes, it’s all the same to Trump.

Walls? Make Mexicans pay? Muslims banned from entry? Greenlight waterboarding? What Geneva Convention? You’re fired.

But real presidential candidates act presidential. From the leader of the free world, a president’s words are practically gospel. Everything said is a headline.

So, of course, the Democrats exhibited some good sense.

You may have seen a soundbite. Here’s the transcript:

CLINTON: Karen, I’m going to follow my friend Senator Sanders’ model here. If I’m so fortunate enough to be the Democratic nominee, there will be a lot of time to talk about him. I was the first one to call him out. I called him out when he was calling Mexicans rapists. When he was engaging in rhetoric that I found deeply offensive. I said Basta!, and I am pleased that others… [applause]

CLINTON: Others are also joining in making clear that his rhetoric, his demagoguery, his trafficking in prejudice and paranoia has no place in our political system. Especially from somebody running for president who couldn’t decide whether or not to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke. So people can draw their own conclusions about him. I will just end by saying this. You don’t make America great by getting rid of everything that made America great. [applause]

TUMULTY: Secretary Clinton, my question was about his character. And that is one of the primary things that Americans think about when they choose their next president. How would you describe the character of a person who has said the sorts of things he has about Mexican immigrants, about women, and who would ban people from entering this country based on their religion?

CLINTON: I think it’s un-American. I think what he has promoted is not at all in keeping with American values, Karen. And I am going to take every opportunity to criticize him, to raise those issues. I’m not going to engage in the kind of language that he uses. I think we can make the case against him if he is the nominee, by pointing out what he has said. What he claims to believe in, the values he’s promoting, and I think that’s a better way for the American people to draw their conclusions.

TUMULTY: Senator Sanders, do you think it’s fair to call Donald Trump a racist?

SANDERS: This is what I think. I think that the American people are never going to elect a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims, who insults women, who insults African Americans. And let us not forget that several years ago, Trump was in the middle of the so-called birther movement, trying to delegitimize the president of the United States of America. [applause]

SANDERS: You know, I find it very interesting, Karen, my dad was born in Poland. I know a little bit about the immigrant experience. Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate. Maybe it has something to do with the color of my skin. [applause]

TUMULTY: So what does that tell you about his character?

SANDERS: And I am very pleased…I am very pleased that I think in the last national poll that I saw, we were running 18 points ahead of Donald Trump. [applause]

Sanders didn’t get to finish his answer. But both candidates answered without sinking to the level of Trump.

It was an important question to ask in this day when real conversations on race too often degenerate into MTV’s “Yo Momma.” Or when the conversation ends because there’s no communication and people are wrongly called racist for bringing up race as an issue, never mind the substance.

That’s why it’s necessary to keep pointing out the xenophobia and bigotry of Trump time and again. It’s his go to method.

It seems like we’ve already forgotten how Donald Trump fanned the nonsensical birther movement and its claim that Barack Hussein Obama was not an American by birth.

And just so you know this is a real pattern with Trump, harping on cockamamie inanities, he proved it again this week during an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN.

Trump reinforced how he’d get tough on ISIS, tough on waterboarding.

And to back up his point, Trump once again mentions the racist story of General Pershing as his role model.

“I tell the story of General Pershing in 1919 in the Philippines and how he stopped terrorism, OK. You’ll take a look at it. It’s too long a story to tell on your tape, it will take the whole thing. But it’s one of the very interesting and very powerful stories,” Trump said to Cooper Wednesday on CNN.

Great, but if you check out the tale that Trump naturally draws power from, you’ll find the story has been debunked as an outright lie.

The story of Pershing executing Muslims with bullets drenched in pigs’ blood is not a proven fact. It lives on like a weed on the internet, and now it’s passed off as truth by a man who continues to use it to inform his sense of foreign policy. This is Kim Jong Un territory.

Don’t you want a president who values the truth? Or one who will insist on racist fantasy?

It makes his presidential pledge looks a whole lot like….


Well, the comedian Louis C.K., in an email on Saturday to his fans. probably said it as clearly as anyone. And he wasn’t joking.

“Please stop it with voting for Trump. It was funny for a little while. But the guy is Hitler. And by that I mean that we are being Germany in the ’30s. Do you think they saw the shit coming? Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all.

“And I’m not advocating for Hillary or Bernie. I like them both but frankly I wish the next president was a conservative only because we had Obama for eight years and we need balance. And not because I particularly enjoy the conservative agenda. I just think the government should reflect the people. And we are about 40 percent conservative and 40 percent liberal. When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while. But it only works if the conservatives put up a good candidate. A good smart conservative to face the liberal candidate so they can have a good argument and the country can decide which way to go this time.

“Trump is not that. He’s an insane bigot. He is dangerous.”


After the debate on Wednesday, I kept wondering why, with so many debates, there hasn’t been an Asian American-focused debate. There are 18 million of us, after all. Or maybe an ethnic debate where African Americans, Latinos, and Asians got in their questions. I used to do a show in the late ’90s, “New California Media,” seen on PBS stations in California, that was like a “Meet the Press” for the ethnic media. Van Jones, now of CNN, was often a member of the panel I hosted. Nearly 20 years later, the mainstream is slowly catching up.

Among my most active tweets for this debate was one on the Puerto Rican question. That wasn’t asked in any debate so far. An Asian American debate could ask the candidates about China’s encroachment in the West Philippine Sea. Immigration questions would be different too. More about insanely long waits; family reunification; H-1B visas.

There were some Asian Americans in the audience, and not just at home.


Bel Leung Hong, DNC AAPI Caucus chair, Winnie Tang, and Sam Ma, DNC Finance Committee member

Winnie Tang, a Macao immigrant from Queens, has lived in Florida since 1987 and was in the crowd, as a member of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee. She became politicized after attending an OCA conference in Washington. Now, she’s committed her life to making sure Asian Americans have a seat at the table.

Like many Asian Americans, she’s a big Hillary supporter, but she thought both candidates were much more mature in their responses–compared to the Republicans. And certainly compared to Trump.

“In any intellectual way, I don’t know how it comes down to Trump,” said Tang. “It seems like the Republicans don’t have anyone better than him to run for president. He doesn’t really have substance. He’s a rude individual who will trash anyone who comes in his path.”

For the Florida Republican debate, Trump says he’s going to be presidential.

“I could be more presidential than anybody,” Trump said after winning in Michigan. “Believe it or not, I am a unifier.”

If he’s the nominee, just remember if he ever cops to being fooled by the General Pershing tale. Or if he really believes it’s the truth. You want him knowing the nuclear codes?

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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