America First, Buy America may be the beginnings of a new anti-Asian movement
"AMERICA FIRST," has been the clarion call of President Donald Trump since the early days of candidacy. In his inauguration speech, Trump further clarified his statement to mean "Buy American and hire American."
As many people have advocated - most notably undocumented Filipino/American immigration reform activist Jose Antonio Vargas - we need a new definition of who is "American." Considering the demographic trends, he says, we need to change the image of an American that is held by most immigrants and people from other countries: white and male.
Trump's America First exhortation has a deeper and darker meaning, according to Dana Frank, a history professor at UC-Santa Cruz and author of Buy American: the Untold Story of Economic Nationalism, who recently wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post.
A lot of the rhetoric being used has a strong appeal to Trump's voting base -- voting patterns have shown that Trump won most of the white, males whose schooling ended after high school -- because much of its history is based on anti-Asian sentiment. Among Trump's "bad" players on the world economic scene is China and Japan, which he considers as economic rivals.
It's not surprisingly that Trump prefers to side with the Russians, whom most Americans see as white, over the "colored" Chinese even though Russia is equally dangerous to world peace and economic stability.
"The Buy American exhortation follows a long history of similar campaigns steeped in racism, especially against Asians and Asian Americans, that have had real, destructive consequences," she wrote. "It’s not that the Buy American call is racist in itself — there’s nothing wrong with seeking to reinvest our dollars back in good local jobs. The problem lies in the way in which it frames the issues."
The anti-Asian aspect of the call became really strong in late 1932 and early 1933, when William Randolph Hearst, the media magnate who owned 27 daily newspapers with a circulation of 5.5 million, launched a Buy American campaign as his answer to the Great Depression: “Buy American and spend American. … Keep American money in America and provide employment for American citizens.” Every day for three months, Hearst’s papers in lockstep ran three or four editorials, testimonials, articles, cartoons and columns exhorting Buy American.
Hearst's vicious racist campaign was so effective, that by the time the U.S. entered World War II, the American public was primed to accept without question the internment of 127,000 Americans of Japanese descent, one of the most shameful chapters in American history.
This cartoon accompanied an anti-Japanese editorial in William Randolph Hearst's publications, June 22, 1913.
Frank goes on to say that the during the 1960s, Japanese goods were pictured as cheap, badly made products. The anti-Japanese sentiment of the 1980s led to the death of Vincent Chin when some Detroit workers believing the Japanese auto industry was making inroads on the U.S. market believed saw Chin as a threat.
In today's world, the America First rhetoric Trump is using to renegotiate treaties blames foreign countries, particularly Mexico and China, for "stealing" American jobs, when in actuality, it is American corporations that are making the decisions to move those jobs overseas to lesser paid workers often working in conditions that have been outlawed in the U.S.
America First would be fine if the American middle class was benefiting from the President's strategies, but it looks to me like the real beneficiaries are the heads of corporations and Wall Street investors - the very same people he is inviting to run the government and rewrite the rules to let Big Business run amok unfettered by regulations designed to protect the average investor and business.
What should be especially troubling to AAPI is that thinking of China as the economic "bad hombre;" it is not a far stretch from associating all Asians, including Asian/Americans, as those big, bad "Others." In many minds, AAPI are already "foreign" and "others," Trump's language can only solidify that image which could lead to more attacks from white supremacists. Many believe that the hateful racist rhetoric used during the presidential campaign has led to a rise on attacks on AAPI. A website where Asian/Americans and Pacific Islanders can report hate-inspired incidents has been created.
Frank concludes her article, "Today, we need to eschew both corporate-driven free trade and dangerous nationalism, and instead embrace a politics of trade and immigration based on empathy, respect and support for working people around the world."