By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
On Sunday, Nov. 13, President-elect Donald Trump chose Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist.
Bannon was previously chief executive officer (instated August 2016) of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Under Bannon’s leadership Brietbart News positioned itself as the “platform for the alt-right,” a group with far-right ideologies who actually reject mainstream U.S. conservatism. The most passionate critics of the Brietbart and the alt-right say that the alt-right feed and promotes white supremacism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, and racism.
And thus, the cautious optimism that some people of color may have entertained — that President-elect Trump could be more tempered than candidate Trump — has taken a hit.
“Trump is a dangerous conman, a fabulist who is now driving around in a clown car of bad ideas,” said Jamie Ford, who of Chinese descent and the author of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” (2009), a novel about the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans by the U.S. government during World War II. “He’s shown the worst side of himself and the electorate: racism, misogyny, antisemitism, an appetite for bullying, a disregard for science, and a love of conspiracy theories.”
Does the APIA voice count?
In this election cycle, exit polls and surveys showed that the majority of Asian American and Pacific Islander American (APIA) voters backed Hillary Clinton for president. According to the Asian American National Election Eve Poll, 75 percent of APIAs voted for Clinton — 19 percent voted for Trump.
APIAs have been the country’s fastest-growing racial group, having grown by more than 620,000 voters with each election cycle since 2000. It’s projected that one in 10 Americans will be an APIA by 2040.
Yet, according to the Asian American National Election Eve Poll, campaigns, political parties, and civic organizations neglected to ask 57 percent of Asian Americans to vote or register to vote. Of those contacted, 84 percent were asked in English. This is exceptionally noteworthy, as two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, with limited English language skills.
This is a community that is often ignored or overlooked — and also one that generally does not align its values with those of Trump.
When local APIA community leaders were asked how APIAs might further social justice work within a newly changed political climate, nearly none who were asked advocated direct collaboration with the future Trump administration.
In its Nov. 16 statement, OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates – Greater Seattle stated that as an organization, it “believes that consequences of Trump’s presidency on APIAs will be harmful, especially among our newer immigrants and those who are poor, because of his exclusionary and white nationalistic policies.”
OCA–GS stated that such policies will result in millions of APIAs left without basic health care and dramatic decreases for educational and social resources to immigrants and refugees, as well as furthering the widening divide between “whites and communities of color, which will set back U.S. race relations.”
‘A civic society’
In its Nov. 15 story, “How Bannon flattered and coaxed Trump on policies key to the alt-right,” the Washington Post points to a Breitbart News Daily radio segment between Trump and Bannon that aired last year on Nov. 2, 2015 — in which Trump expressed worries that Asians who come to the United States to study at Ivy League colleges end up returning home to Asia because of strident U.S. immigration laws.
At the time, Trump stated that there should be a way to keep that sort of talent in the United States — that is, to make it so talented Asian students can “go through the process” and become citizens.
At the time, Bannon did not appear to agree with Trump. He made the observation that “two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia.” Then he euphemistically said, “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”
“Stephen Bannon apparently thinks there are too many Asians in Silicon Valley,” Ford said of Trump’s new senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist.
“[And Trump] is a man who isn’t sure the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a bad idea.”
Immediately following the outcome of the election, Vu Le, a leader in nonprofit and the brain behind NonprofitWithBalls.com, wrote on his blog, “Right now, I can’t offer much encouragement, because I honestly just feel like crap. I’ve had presidential candidates I supported who didn’t win, but I’ve never been as affected as I am by this particular loss.”
“A Trump presidency could bring us back to the dark ages,” said Kathy Wong Chinn, a longtime community volunteer. “All the progress made in the Civil Rights movement could easily vanish in an instant.”
“Asian Americans have experienced an increase in harassment and attacks quickly following the presidential election,” said Quyen Dang, Seattle president of the National Association of Asian American Professionals. “Regardless of who is president, harassment and hate crimes toward minorities and women are unacceptable and cannot be normalized.”
“I don’t imagine working with [Trump] is an option if there are diametrical differences of opinion concerning fundamental principles of equity and social justice,” said Karen Yoshitomi, executive director of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington. (Yoshitomi’s views are her own and do not necessarily reflect her nonprofit.) Yoshitomi expressed being horrified by the election outcome.
Many APIAs have talked about the election in terms of loss and grief — containing stages to navigate through and process. A pivotal stage in processing grief is anger.
Le stated that he has witnessed an increase in the number of “hurtful and divisive interactions between colleagues who are on the same side.” He stated that he is also not immune to the engaging in this kind of conflict.
Yet, even as local APIAs grapple with their shifting thoughts and feelings, many have stated that they hope the APIA community — both on local and national levels — will move forward with renewed effort and purpose, and will do so in an inclusive way.
“I think the results of this election serve as a reminder that racism, sexism, and prejudice are still powerful and challenging issues that minority communities face,” said James Hong, executive director of Vietnamese Friendship Association. (Hong stated that his comments do not represent his organization or him as his organization’s head; they are his own personal beliefs.) “I believe it’s an important moment for the API community to pause, reflect, and think about how we can continue to build a movement grounded in the values of inclusion, compassion, and equity.”
“It also requires that we critically challenge our own biases so that we may understand — and appreciate — how to better work in solidarity with other marginalized groups,” added Hong. “Our work must be welcoming and inclusive to all vulnerable people and communities, including Muslims, women, LGTBQ, immigrants, and refugees. I recognize this isn’t an easy task, and there’s a lot of work to be done. Most immediately, it requires challenging leaders, systems, and institutions that perpetuate fear, hate, and oppression.”
“I think the role of those who are concerned about his presidency is to practice vigilance and serve as ‘watchdogs’ in an effort to keep him in check,” Yoshitomi said.
“We will continue our work, which is now even more urgent,” said Le. “We have to protect the progress we have made. … We have to rally even more vigorously to mobilize our communities. We have to prepare now for the next election cycle. Our work to advance civic participation and social justice is more critical now than ever.”
“If the heightened campaign rhetoric was any indication, we will have to be ever-vigilant and continue to fight for the rights of immigrants and refugees, many of whom are Helping Link clients,” said Helping Link Executive Director Minh-Duc Nguyen. (Nguyen’s views do not necessarily reflect those of her nonprofit.) “These are real people with real life struggles, who came to find a safe haven and new hope in America. We must encourage them to continue to tell their stories so that those that voted in fear can be appeased by getting to know them as neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow human beings.”
Ultimately, OCA-GS’ stance is this: “It is our hope, however, that Trump’s presidency will awaken the APIA community to fight back against it, get politically involved, and to make him a one-term president.”
*This story was edited on Nov. 18 to add two more quotes. A note: Charitable nonprofits must not engage in “political campaign activity” in order to retain favored tax-status. The executive directors who voiced their opinions in this story did so carefully and out of personal belief.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.