This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
Although the Trump administration is over, we are still witnessing the tragic effects of his politics, which have been wholly embraced by the Republican Party. The horrific shootings targeting Asian-American women in Atlanta are a stark, painful reminder that politics riddled with racism and toxic masculinity bear painful consequences.
Republicans regularly employ grievance politics and divisive rhetoric as a mask for the lack of a policy platform and their deeply unpopular economic agenda. Racism and divisive rhetoric is used as a tool, with sometimes deadly consequences, to divide a multiracial coalition calling for representation, while the GOP elites rig the system to benefit themselves.
When they are in charge, making the government appear ineffective helps their bottom line. All of last year as the GOP did nothing to control the COVID-19 pandemic, and in fact made it worse by ignoring science, Trump and many of his closest congressional allies used the AAPI community as their scapegoat in language and rhetoric. The racist blame game is seen as a tool to distract Americans not just from the administration’s failure to manage a pandemic response but also from the massive transfer of wealth to corporations and the wealthy in pandemic relief efforts. The uptick in violence we’ve seeing against the Asian American community in recent months is the inevitable byproduct of the GOP’s longtime marriage to wealthy corporations.
The main path through this unfortunate place the Republican Party has brought the U.S. is multiracial solidarity, and AAPI groups have led the charge on supporting and advocating for a democracy where all people have a voice and a vote. When one segment of the population is under attack, all of us are under attack. That’s why the time to act is now: those in philanthropy, the media and in the progressive movement must speak out and take action. Silence in the face of violent, racist and misogynist rhetoric is often deadly.
And this is not a new tactic.
When the first wave of East Asian immigration to the United States in the 1850s took place, there was discrimination and violence from the start. Since the Chinese first came to the U.S. in large numbers, their treatment unfortunately set the framework for the political and social treatments of almost all other Asian immigrants and all future waves of immigration from around the world.
The Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1840s helped build the economy and the culture of the western half of the U.S. during the gold rush. Despite their additions to the American west, including building the transcontinental railroad, the U.S. government was clear about Chinese integration — it would not happen. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which rejected Chinese citizenship and was especially discriminative toward Chinese women, who were barred nearly all entry to the U.S.
This official U.S. policy led to waves of deportations, violence and discrimination. And this xenophobic act by Congress that ties immigration to labor became the foundation for most U.S. immigration law through today. Again, the only people who benefited from xenophobia, past and present, are wealthy businesses and politicians who have exploited immigrants like those in the AAPI community for cheap labor.
Demonizing and scapegoating the AAPI community is horrendous and wrong, but the division the GOP has sown also hurts democracy.
The AAPI community is only the latest ethnic group to bear the brunt of conservatives’ woeful mismanagement of government. Trump used race baiting as a campaign tactic and an agenda setting tool during his rise to power and his one term in office. And if Republicans had spent less time demonizing communities of color, and more time even attempting to formulate a federal response, we would not have seen such a disastrous handling of COVID-19’s spread across the country.
Republicans have drawn a line in the sand and have asked Americans to pick sides — in their view of the world, government is a problem that must be dismantled for the benefit of the rich, corporations and for the sake of capitalism. To mask their deeply unpopular views they will scapegoat anyone, in this case, the AAPI community.
As Americans, we must not fall for this trap. Doing that can be as simple as getting involved in local elections, making sure that you are electing leaders who condemn and are fighting hate against AAPI communities, or speaking out publicly when you see racism happening. On the national level, we must get rid of the filibuster so that we can pass real gun reform legislation, an update to the Violence Against Women Act, and the For the People Act to protect our democracy and ensure that all Americans are able to vote out anti-AAPI hatred at the ballot box.
Tory Gavito is the President and Co-Founder of the progressive donor and strategy hub Way to Win