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Blog: The Uncertain Future of Race & Politics

Race in AmericaBy Ed Diokno


It has almost been a year since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the President of the U.S. The country has not been the same ever since. Even if the businessman/showman doesn’t win, he’s already done enough damage to the U.S. that will take years to recover.


I know my friends and family get tired of me talking about race all the time … but it is a hard topic to avoid these days. Everywhere I turn I’m cursed with viewing the world through the particular lens of an Asian/Filipino/American/Californian.


I try not to depress my friends about the current state of race relations so out of courtesy and in order to keep their friendship, I try to avoid the topic — and get on to some non-controversial topics like the movies or TV. Oops. There it is again – #OscarsSoWhite and #WhiteWashedOut tend to bring the conversation back to race – or the lack of substantial roles for AAPI actors; or romantic lead roles for Asian American men and or the proliferation of ass-kicking Asians.


How about education and the classes my young friends are taking or teaching? Darn it! It’s hard to talk about education without dipping into the topics of affirmative action and the necessity for ethnic studies. Of course, there’s that model minority thing still haunting Asian Americans where we’re all supposed to be good in math, science and medicine and poor in the arts and creative expression.


Even when talking about the seemingly apolitical subject of sports, it is impossible to avoid the topic of race. Well there’s the whole kerfuffle surrounding 49er backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner because, he says, how could he support a country that oppresses people of color? And the mascot of the Washington DC’s NFL team is pure racist.


Politics — well, there’s no escaping the subject of race in this presidential election cycle. Race has dominated the political discussion ever since Trump declared his candidacy in a manner that ripped asunder common decency by berating Mexican immigrants. A fascinating article by Lee Drutman appeared in Vox recently and one of the things he pointed out that our attitudes towards African Americans and Latino Americans is closely tied to our political views. (Once again, another well-intentioned pundit ignored Asian Americans.)


Take a look at the following two graphs indicating the feeling towards Hispanics (Latino Americans) and Blacks (African Americans) as it pertains to political persuasion.


 Racial attitudes towards HispanicsRacial attitudes towards Blacks
Drutman correctly points out that in the past, we’ve had our racial differences and we had our political differences, but this year, the two seem to have merged. To read the complete Vox piece, click here.I would love to see what the chart looks like for Hispanics after Donald Trump’s immigration speech last week loaded with coded words and phrases intended to fire up his core group of apparently threatened White males, afraid of the demise of their exalted position on top of the heap and with it, the diminishment of their power and influence.

I was talking with another friend – at least, one of my few remaining friends – the other day and we both lamented the fact that the race-baiting and hate-filled rhetoric coming from the alt-right and repeated by their candidate for consumption in the print and broadcast media, have set back race relations by years, if not decades.

You’ll note in the chart above that for African Americans, today, they are looked upon even more poorly than the mid-1960s when we saw the passage of two historic pieces of legislation: the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, when Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were still socially accepted in large parts of the country.

The downward trend began with the ascendancy of the non-compromising, religiously driven Tea Party conservatives in 2004 and the curve became a slippery slope when the 2008 election came around that saw the election of the first African American president. That may have been the last straw for the ultra-ultra conservatives. There are certain elements in our country who cannot bear having an African American as the leader of the Free World and have vehemently denied that reality since Barack Obama was elected president.

During the ensuing eight years, the data being released by demographers was the last straw, pushing White nationalists, or the alt-right, into a frenzy – they were losing what they perceived as “their” country. By mid-century, non-Hispanic Whites (Euro Americans), would be less than 50 percent of the U.S.


By the time 2016 rolled around, by comparison, even the ultra-conservative Tea Party looked moderate compared to the new conservative radicals. They had to come up with a new name for the far, far, far right wing, the alt-right, which had been biding their time waiting for their candidate to make his appearance. Along came this loud, boisterous, media-savvy demagogue who fit their purposes perfectly.

Donald Trump opened the door to the alt-right, White supremacists, or White nationalists, as they sometimes call themselves, who for decades kept their dark views to themselves in polite society. As Trump discovered his base, he began fueling their fears with his anti-immigrant, anti-refugee hate rhetoric that is his trademark. The alt-right had found their messiah.

With Pandora’s Box opened, the KKK, survivalists, ultra-conservative evangelicals, fascists and neo-Nazis have come out of the dark corners of our society and all that pent-up racism has been unleashed because Trump, with the media unwittingly giving him a national platform, has made racism socially acceptable again.

RELATED:Asian Americans lean towards Democrats

It is no wonder that people of color are shifting their allegiance to the Democrats, who appear to be more welcoming to the legions of African American, Asian American, Latino American, Native Americans and Muslim Americans. Asian Americans, because of their entrepreneurship and perceived wealth in comparison to other groups, were once seen as prime candidates for the GOP but because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the right, even traditional conservative Vietnamese Americans have no other choice but to lean towards the Democrats.

My hope is that the Democratic Party’s apparent acceptance of people of color is more than just an Aikido-like strategy to defeat the Republicans. We won’t know if the Democrats really want to represent the myriad peoples of our country until after the election. If Hillary Clinton wins, the people she chooses to surround herself will give us a good indication of her and the Democrats’ sincerity and priorities. (No disrespect to Judge Merrick Garland, but an Asian American on the Supreme Court would deflect a lot of doubt.)

What’s being forgotten with all the attention  given to race is the widening chasm between the rich and the poor, the shrinking middle-class and the economic inequities this income inequality creates. The growing disparities may be even a stronger discord than that caused by race.

Where race and wealth inequity intersect, most noticeable among the lower income of all races and ethnicities, we create the perfect mix of anger, social tension and an uncertain future, a bubbling cauldron that could explode in our faces.

With the changing demographics of the United States, we wonder if the Republican Party — at least the moderate Republicans that I grew up with — can survive the increasingly vitriolic demands of Trump’s supporters surrounding the issues of race.

With its vicious internal three-way struggle for control between the alt-right, Tea Party and what’s left of the moderate wing, there are those who are gleefully anticipating the demise of the Republican Party. I caution those who would applaud the GOP’s disintegration: Be careful what you wish for. With the resurgence of the far ultra-conservatives, what steps into the void of our traditional two-party system might be even more frightening.


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