Racism against AAPIs is not new; it is literally deeply embedded in American history. Rep. Lieu joined this week’s episode to talk about some of the reasons we’re seeing an escalation in violence towards AAPIs and how we can fight back against it. He specifically named the long history of discrimination, xenophobia, and violence against AAPI communities, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of more than 120,000 of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, and the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s.
Moulitsas brought up the role of the “model minority” myth in harming the fight for justice for AAPIs, explaining that conservatives love to weaponize this concept of the AAPI community against Black and Latino communities. Lieu responded that it was important to note the significant diversity of the AAPI community that is often obscured by numbers alone or by those who wish to push the model minority myth. He was also explicit about the importance of protecting the AAPI community at a time when it is undergoing rapid growth in the U.S, noting that AAPIs are expected to be the largest minority group in the country by 2055.
Lieu tied Donald Trump’s decision to refer to the virus in racialized language to the rise in violence, indicating its effect on the safety and wellbeing of AAPIs:
We had a hearing last week on the rise in hate crimes towards Asian Americans, and the experts on the panel showed that there was a link between the rhetoric of the former president and the rise in hate crimes and hate incidents against Asian Americans. One reason this happens is because it blurs the distinctions between the actions of a foreign government and Americans who happen to be of Asian descent. It was the inability of our government in World War II to distinguish between the actions of the Japanese government, and Americans who happened to be of Japanese descent, that caused internment. And when you continue to use racist phrases like “kung flu,” it just adds to the blurring of that distinction. And so, I just ask of my Republican colleagues, just stop using ethnic identifiers to describe the coronavirus. It has an official name—use it.
Moulitsas is concerned about Republicans’ continued use of these racist phrases and their refusal to drop the language even in light of increased violence against AAPIs; Eleveld believes this is part of a larger trend and pointed out the GOP’s tactic of stoking cultural flashpoints in what she thinks is a strategy leading up to 2024: “Republicans aren’t running on what they can do to help you … but cultural flashpoints revolving around xenophobia, ‘cancel culture,’ revolving around things involving transgender youth, things like that … it’s the only way they can imagine to fire up their base because they can’t imagine what they can actually offer their base.”
Certain members of Congress, in particular, seem to enjoy using this inflammatory language. Lieu called out Texas Rep. Chip Roy’s line of questioning during a hearing last week intended to address discrimination against Asian Americans. Quoting Roy’s rhetoric, Lieu said, “He focused on ‘Communist China.’ He was, essentially, again, blurring the distinction. Because I have nothing to do with the Communist Party of China. But that has nothing to do with Americans who are getting assaulted.”
Moutlisas and Eleveld moved then to a discussion of bail reform, an issue important to Lieu. Lieu believes the entire concept of cash bail is detrimental to our justice system: “There’s really no link between the cash on hand you have and how dangerous you might be.” The House of Representatives, he noted, has passed legislation to address this very issue.The difficulty, he said, lies in ensuring this bill makes it through the Senate.
Merkley was the next guest, and he presented the view from the Senate chamber. He focused on the filibuster’s damaging impact on progress, and he noted its history of being used to stop Black power from coalescing in Congress; prior to the Civil War, the filibuster was often used to protect the interests of slaveholding states. Democrats, including the president, are considering moving to a “talking filibuster,” which would require members of the Senate to stand and speak for the full time.
Merkley called out Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s handwringing over doing away with the filibuster and noted that Democrats have a responsibility to use this moment and the conversation around the filibuster strategically:
We have a constitutional responsibility to figure it out … I am convinced we will work out a path—whether it’s carving out the Voting Rights Act … whether it’s all things that have a constitutional framing … whether it’s striking a deal with the Republicans that if you filibuster those particular bills that are constitutional, then we will act to get rid of the filibuster. There are many paths that are possible here, and as a group of 50, we have to figure it out—and we must figure it out. We have a constitutional responsibility; we took an oath.
Lastly, Merkley described the “power over principle” that seems to be driving how Republican members of Congress vote right now and how dangerous it is, making it all the more important to pass new voting rights legislation through the For the People Act (S.R. 1). As Republicans continue to lose influence among voters, they continue eroding criteria for who can vote, how they can vote, and when they can vote, as well as using gerrymandering to change the demographics of districts to favor Republican candidates—all tried and true voter suppression tactics.
People love [voting by mail] because they want to exercise their right … and they know they can’t be manipulated [by the restrictions of voting in person] … if they know they have the right to vote by mail. So there are a number of powerful reforms in there, including public financing of elections, not by government funds, but by money that comes from fines for corporate malfeasance. There’s a certain beauty in that, that corporations that misbehave fund public financing so that individuals can serve the people in office without having gone to the richest Americans to collect campaign funds. These are powerful reforms that protect that core vision of government of, by, and for the people.
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