Sunday, March 21, 2021

Republicans Play Politics With Anti-Asian Hate

     Robert Aaron Long’s motives for shooting and killing six Korean American women who worked at massage parlors that he frequented for quick sex are less important than the urgent need to stop Donald Trump and other Republicans from stoking and exploiting anti-Asian prejudices for their political purposes.

            The political stakes lurking in debates about the case became manifest two days later [March 17] when Republican members of Congress accused Democrats and others of trying to deny Republicans the right to criticize China. Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and a Taiwanese immigrant, reacted sharply, according to the Washington Post’s coverage when the Texas Republican Chip Roy aired that complaint during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing convened to examine the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year.

            “You can say racist, stupid stuff if you want,” Lieu snapped. “But I’m asking you to please stop using racist terms like ‘kung flu’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ or other ethnic identifiers and describe them as a virus. I am not a virus.”

            Republican politicians will not stop, however, because the racist tropes are part of a political strategy that serves their purpose by stirring their political base and justifying the anti-immigration polices that are part of the GOP’s current platform. Indeed, Trump, as former president, used the killings not as an opportunity to condemn anti-Asian prejudice but instead as another occasion to blame the current pandemic on what he insists on calling “the China virus.”

            To their credit, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta three days after the killings [March 19] precisely for the purpose of meeting with Asian American leaders to address the crisis in anti-Asian hate crimes. “Hate and violence often hide in plain sight and so often met with silence,” Biden said after the meeting. “But that has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”

A close examination of Long’s life and his actions on the day of the killings [March 15] indicates that he acted less out of anti-Asian animus than out of tortured guilt for his pornography-fueled sex addiction. A faithful parishioner at a fundamentalist church in the Atlanta area, Long nevertheless filled many waking hours by watching Internet pornography and satisfied his sexual appetites by patronizing massage parlors where attractive Asian women provided muscle-relaxing massages finished off with “happy endings.”

            Even if Long’s killing spree is eventually prosecuted as simple murder without a hate-crime enhancement, the shootings cannot be separated from the economic and sociological reality that the Asian American writer May Jeong described in an op-ed in the New York Times [March 20]. Jeong, currently writing a book about sex work, aptly described the victims of Long’s killing spree as living “at the nexus of race, gender, and class”—working in a somewhat seamy business to satisfy the sexual fantasies of hyper-priapic white men.

            Jeong details the long history of anti-Asian prejudice in the United States dating from the late 19th century with the 1882 passage, for example, of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first and only major federal law to exclude a specific ethnic group from entering the United States. That history makes clear that Trump cannot be accused simply of creating anti-Asian prejudice, but he can be blamed for inexcusably feeding anti-Asian racism as a political strategy for gaining the presidency and perhaps regaining power in the future.

            To be sure, the novel coronavirus can be traced back to Wuhan, China, and the Chinese government has been less than forthcoming with World Health Organization investigators seeking to establish the origins of the virus and the pathways that the virus traveled in creating perhaps the worst global plague in human history. But Trump’s racist trope serves his purpose in blaming China for the plague and deflecting blame from the White House and his administration for failing to move swiftly to contain the virus and continuing to give his supporters license to ignore the measures that public health authorities recommend to stop the spread—steps as simple as mask wearing and social distancing.

            Indeed, even as Trump touts and exaggerates his role in the rapid development of effective vaccines, he declines to join with other former presidents in urging Americans to get vaccinated as soon as time and circumstance allow. Public opinion polls indicate that as many as 40 percent of Republicans do not plan to get vaccinated, apparently valuing their personal freedom and distrust of medical authorities over the need to do their part in creating “herd immunity” that will protect themselves and their families as well as their neighbors and the rest of us.

            Appearing on the PBS NewsHour on Friday [March 19], the New York Times columnist David Brooks acknowledged, regretfully, that the policy response to the pandemic has been infected with politics from its earliest days. But he voiced the hope that at the personal and community level, politics will become less important as the now skeptical Republicans consult with their own doctors and consider more carefully how best to defeat the virus while protecting themselves and their families as well.

On that score, as the always-cautious analyst might say, time will tell. But the outcome will  turn in part on whether Republicans decide to show more interest in public health than in political points and political posturing. The outlook, as the Eight Ball might say, is “cloudy.”



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