Brave new racist nativist political world

[This was posted on July 27 and then revised on July 29 after Hillary Clinton’s speech]

It’s all harmless political shenanigans until a racist mob murders Vincent Chin.*

It’s amazing how the new figureheads of both major parties are now pretending to oppose globalization, outsourcing, and the corporate “free trade” agenda that they both have spent their professional lives furthering. It wasn’t long ago that I taught in my stratification class that this agenda was the one thing we could be sure both parties and the big money behind them wouldn’t give up. Never say never, but I’m still pretty sure that’s still true.

There are good reasons to oppose this agenda, but most of them aren’t in America. If you want to talk about slave labor, exploitation, and environmental degradation in the new manufacturing centers of the world, then I would be happy to listen to you talk about the harmful effects of those practices “here at home” too. But if you just want to bash China, then you’re a racist, and no thank you.

Case in point, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey at the Democratic National Convention the other day. Here’s his speech, followed by some of the text and my comments:

Casey quoted his father, the former governor:

“The sweat and blood of working men and women who built Pennsylvania forged the industrial revolution in our country, and outproduced the world.”

How touching, attributing the industrial revolution the efforts of the working class. It reminds me of when another brave Pennsylvania governor, Democrat Robert Pattison, reached across the aisle, helping out Republican industrialists by lending them the National Guard to put down the Homestead steelworkers.

I assume today’s Democratic politician will now go on to recognize the working class of today’s manufacturing centers, who, through their sweat and blood are outproducing the world and building the middle class in their countries. Oh right, Casey is American.

What about Donald Trump? Donald trump says he stands for workers, and that he’ll put American first, but that’s not how he’s conducted himself in business. Where are his, quote, tremendous products made? Dress shirts: Bangladesh. Furniture: Turkey. Picture frames: India. Wine glasses: Slovenia. Neckties: China. China! Why would Donald Trump make products in every corner of the world, but not in Altoona, Erie, or here in Philadelphia? Well, this is what he said, quote, outsourcing is not always a terrible thing. Wages in America quote, are too high. And then he complained about companies moving jobs overseas because, quote, we don’t make things anymore. Really? … [examples of stuff made in America]. Donald Trump hasn’t made a thing in his life, except a buck on the backs of working people. If he is a champion of working people, I’m the starting center for the 76ers! The man who wants to make America great, doesn’t make anything in America! If you believe that outsourcing has been good for working people, and has raised incomes for the middle class, then you should vote for Donald Trump. … We need to making good paying jobs for everyone here at home, so that everyone who works hard can get ahead and stay there.

Yes, the great conflict of our time is between “China” and “working people.” Maybe one day we can all link arms and together put down striking Chinese workers to keep the price down on our iPhones and Wal-Mart junk.

The Democratic National Convention was very on-message. In Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech the next day, she said:

If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals, that we should stand up to China, that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers — join us.

She gave no definition of what it means to “Stand up to China,” though her website says she will insist on trade deals that raise wages and create good-paying jobs (presumably meaning in the US). That’s not important — the important thing communicated to her audience is she’s against China and for American workers. Then she went through the same list of Trump production locations that Casey did, before concluding, “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again – well, he could start by actually making things in America again.” The current U.S. trade deficit in goods (as opposed to services) is about $62 billion — per month. Virtually all Americans are dependent on imported goods (including, apparently, Clinton, whose Nina McLemore suits are made from European and Asian fabrics). No major politician is seriously against this. Trump hiring U.S. workers to make his ties would make about as much difference as Clinton buying clothes with U.S. fabrics, which is basically none. It’s just symbolism, and the symbolism here is China is bad. Unless you join this kind of talk with explicit concern for the (much greater, obviously) suffering and exploitation of Chinese workers, I think this just feeds American racism.

Decades later, Vincent Chin resonates with me. There is debate about whether racism was the real motivation behind Vincent Chin’s murder, and it wasn’t as simple as a random lynch mob. Despite the legend, it is not the case that the auto workers just killed him because they falsely believed he was Japanese. But a witness at the bar said they blamed him for them being out of work before they fought. She said:

I turned around and I heard Mr. Ebens say something about the ‘little motherfuckers.’ And Vincent said, ‘I’m not a little motherfucker,’ and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know if you’re a big one or a little one.’ Then he said something about, ‘Well, because of y’all motherfuckers we’re out of work.’*

After losing the first round, Ronald Ebins and his stepson, Michael Nitz, hunted Chin down and killed him with a baseball bat, a crime for which they ultimately served no jail time.

My 8-year-old Chinese immigrant daughter, who learns all about how racism and bullying are bad and MLK is great in her neoliberal public American elementary school, is routinely offended and hurt by the China-bashing she hears from Democrats as well as Trump (she supported Bernie but is willing to back Hillary to stop Trump).

Hillary says we should protect our children from having to listen to Trump’s nastiness — she even has ad on that, which I’ve personally witness liberals tearing up over:

So, what about the people making speeches at your convention, spitting out the word China! like it’s a disease? “What example will we set for them?”

If the new normal of politics is both parties bashing foreigners  while they pretend to oppose globalization — and then pursue the same policies anyway, which, face it, you know they will — then what have we gained? It seems to me there is a small chance Clinton will negotiate better trade deals, to the benefit workers (U.S. or Chinese), and a much greater chance her rhetoric will stoke nativism and racism. As Trump’s megaphone has drawn the White supremacists out from under their rocks, the new fake-anti-TPP Hillary has given a bigger platform to this kind of obnoxious chauvinism.

* The 1987 documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin, which includes that clip, is worth watching (it’s online here, for now).

13 thoughts on “Brave new racist nativist political world

  1. Nice piss and vinegar here. I too have been disturbed by the blatant bashing of “other” locally and globally, but particularly so from the Democratic side. Presumably they have found “complexity” and “hard work” when it comes to policy change. Yet, comical videos make fun of made in China, Bangladesh, etc. You need not publish this comment — I just wanted you to know that I read your posts, appreciate your insights, and selfishly, am comforted by knowing someone else hears the clangs.


  2. Was that you booing on Monday night? That was pretty obnoxious. Get a grip. The two parties and the two figureheads of those parties are worlds apart. In relation to family life, the focus of your blog, one candidate has proposed the most pro-family, pro-parent, pro-child policy agenda ever seen by a major party nominee. The other says that men who take care of their kids are acting “like the wife.”


      1. You might to compare their records on issues related to the AAPI community, their level support from the AAPI community, and their proposed visions for helping the AAPI community.


  3. Wait, was that opening line there earlier? You do know it wasn’t a mob who murdered Vincent Chin, right? You are just saying that a racist mob could murder Vincent Chin or some other Chinese person when there is a frenzy of anti-Asian feeling, just like those two guys who went after Chin after a bar fight. Sorry for being a pedant. I teach this case and have watched Who Killed Vincent Chin at least 40 times.


    1. I went back and forth on that and decided “mob” was ok, partly because those guys tried to pay someone to help find Chin. And also maybe 2 people can be a mob when they have mob motivations. Or I’m wrong. If some people go look up the case to prove me wrong that’s good too.


      1. Have you watched WKVC? It’s hard to get a copy of, but at least for the moment there is a free online version. It will probably get found and taken down. It is actually a great film to teach from, which is why I keep using it despite the aging of my copy. It is 82 minutes. One of the major themes in the film is the difficulty of determining motivations. After all, Chin had won a bar fight and had decked Nitz. Was the motivation of Ebans and Nitz racism, or was it “merely” revenge after losing a bar fight? Was it a racial comment that led to the bar fight? And did Chin have the right to respond to a racial comment by punching somebody? Did that change the equation? Another is the radically different perspectives different people have. The judge says “If it had been a brutal murder . . . ” and one of the Black activists says “It was such a brutal murder . . . ” As quite a few students have commented, those of us who watch the film have a much more complex and diverse view of the situation than any of the individuals featured in the film.


  4. And yet another chapter in the “lazy anti-trade liberal who refuses to reconcile how historically connected his ideas are to racism and xenophobia”. You and the intellectual culture fostered by the WTO-protesting-left created this house, now live in it.


  5. It is an interesting thing: When we outsourced our manufacturing to China, we helped bring hundreds of millions of people out of severe poverty, and contributed to the greatest migration of people from farms to cities in the history of the world. China now has a burgeoning middle class, and the beginnings of democracy. Our own economy benefitted in the form of lower prices on consumer goods, with a relatively small number of jobs lost. For my part, I would call this, perhaps, the greatest achievement of American capitalism.

    The real mistake wasn’t doing business with China — that was good all around. The problem is simply that we didn’t really take care of the people who lost their jobs here as a result of globalization; it would have been easy enough, I should think. This created a political problem we live with to this day, in the form of Donald Trump.


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