Hillary Clinton came out swinging at Donald Trump Thursday, making specific reference to the scary prospect of him taking possession of the nuclear codes: “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.”
The Trump apologists and rationalizers coming out of the GOP woodwork, which now includes Speaker Paul Ryan, will spend from now until November arguing that Trump is the dove and Clinton the hawk. He’s a non-interventionist, we’re told. His slogan, he says, is “America First,” the moniker of the often-anti-Semitic isolationists who supported appeasing Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s.
We all know how well that kept the peace.
The reason Trump will likely get us into a war (or two or three) was captured by Trump himself in his recent interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox. “I’m a counterpuncher, you understand. I’m responding. I respond by maybe, times 10,” he told Kelly. “But in just about all cases I’ve been responding to what they did to me.”
The problem for all of us is that when you’re president, “did to me” becomes “did to America.” Trump’s narcissistic victimhood will quickly transmogrify into the bruised honor of nationhood, which is often the prelude to war.
“He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence,” reads a letter attacking Trump that was signed by 120 foreign policy experts.
So when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un mouths off at the Trump administration, or a Chinese naval captain doesn’t take kindly to “territorial violations” in the South China Sea, the new America president will “respond times 10.”
Bet on it.
In the meantime, Trump’s notorious comments about barring Muslims from American shores have a familiar ring. Consider the history of Asian immigration. Chinese “coolie” labor first arrived the United States in the early 1850s to help with the Gold Rush, and thousands more came to build the transcontinental railroad. But the 1870s and 1880s brought anti-Chinese pogroms across the West and more than 200 lynchings.
The first Trumpian legislation—The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 —barred Chinese from entering the United States. The so-called Asian Barred Zone Act of 1917 extended the prohibitions on entry to most other Asian countries (as well as homosexuals, “idiots,” polygamists, anarchists, and all immigrants over the age of 16 who were illiterate). The Cable Act of 1922 effectively revoked the citizenship of any American woman who married an Asian alien. It wasn’t until the Immigration Act of 1965—an underrated part of the Great Society—that Asian immigrants were put on equal footing with Caucasians and allowed into the United States in any numbers.
For decades, politicians and newspapers referred darkly to what Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany first called “the yellow peril”—Asian hordes bent on infecting Caucasians with their “disease.” As with eugenics and other racist fads of the time, elites made anti-Asian prejudice respectable. In his 1920 book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, Lathrop Stoddard, an eminent Harvard historian, argued that Asians were bent on taking over the Western world. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 made hating “buck-toothed Japs” a thoroughly American phenomenon.
Trump knows better than to utter the crude slurs of Spiro Agnew, who got in trouble in 1968 when he was Richard Nixon’s running mate for calling a Baltimore Sun reporter a “fat Jap.”
But he can’t help using a harsh “Ch” when pronouncing “China” that makes it sound like a curse, mocking the accents of “smart” Asian negotiators (“We want deal”), and assuming Asian-Americans are foreigners.
When Joseph Choe, a 20-year-old Harvard economics major, got up at a New Hampshire event last fall to correct him on his false claim that South Korea paid “nothing” to the United States for its defense, Trump cut him off:
“Are you from South Korea?”
“I’m not. I was born in Texas, raised in Colorado,” Choe replied.
Twenty years ago, the Asian-American vote—reflecting the affluence of that community— was 70 percent Republican. Today, it’s 75 percent Democratic, and the explanation offered by Asian-American political analysts is that Republicans more than Democrats tend to assume someone like Joseph Choe isn’t American. These citizens feel that social exclusion, and they vote accordingly, which is another reason California (where Asian-Americans make up 12 percent of the electorate) is out of reach for the GOP.
Even when Trump has a point, as he does on burden-sharing, his failure to understand the context is disastrous. The hundreds of millions of dollars that both Japan and South Korea pay the United States to house and feed U.S. troops don’t fully cover the costs to U.S. taxpayers, but Trump’s bluster is actually making it harder to get them to pay more.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to reform and expand the Japanese military so that it pays more for itself and helps the United States deter Chinese aggression. But the Japanese people have always been conspiracy-minded and many now believe their government and the United States have struck a secret deal to turn Japan into a nuclear state. This, in turn, strengthens the political position of Japanese nationalists, descendants of the Tojo crowd.
If Trump knew anything about Japanese nationalists and their often hysterical anti-American rhetoric, he wouldn’t be so eager for them to have their fingers on the button.
Trump is equally clueless on trade, where his proposal for a 45 percent tariff would set off a trade war that would impoverish everyone. Trump said last week: “Who the hell cares about a trade war?” Try the estimated 10-20 million Americans who would lose their jobs when our trading partners retaliate and wreck our export markets. Of Japan, he says, “They’re killing us!”, even though the last time that country was prosperous (i.e., “winning”) was 20 years ago.
Of course the hypocrisy of Trump bashing American companies for off-shoring knows no bounds. The Donald J. Trump Collection makes suits, shirts, eyeglasses, perfume and cufflinks in factories across Asia and Central America. Most Trump neckties are made in China, which also manufactures 354 items for his daughter Ivanka’s line of clothing.
Trump may be right that trade talks between China and the United States are like the Patriots and Tom Brady “play[ing] your high school football team.”
Trouble is, he’s lying about those talks. Trump says the Trans-Pacific Partnership “was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” In fact, the TPP, which explicitly does not include China, was designed to make sure that the United States set the liberal, mostly pro-labor trade standards for Asia before the Chinese get a chance to set their own authoritarian trade rules.
After he forces Mexico to build a wall, rounds up 11 million immigrants, kills the wives and children of suspected terrorists, and renegotiates the national debt (thereby eliminating the dollar as the reserve currency of the world and cratering the global economy), Trump will turn his attention to Asia.
“We’re gonna have great relationships,” he says of our Asian allies. Good luck with that.