While Trump markedly heightened tensions and antagonism, Dr Sascha Auerbach, a historian at the University of Nottingham, says the former president is representative of the racism already embedded within U.S. culture.
“It’s not like anti-Chinese racism didn’t exist in America before Trump came along. America is a very, very racist place,” he says. “You really don’t have to go very deeply into the American psyche or American landscape before you find this very pervasive, very deep core of racism.”
Dr Auerbach points to nationalism as the root cause of this.
“Nationalism thrives on difference. [It] has to create an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ in order for it to work. [...] How can the American identity be built? It has to be built on opposites.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and quickly worsened, these differences were amplified for political purposes. While Trump knowingly allowed the virus to spread, he sought to blame others for the increasingly dire circumstances in the U.S.
China became a scapegoat, as did the World Health Organization. But Yu says that political talking points have an impact on everyday encounters, pointing to an uptick they noticed in Sinophobic rhetoric.
“[That] was really concerning for me and really stressful,” Yu says.
Biden entered the White House promising to curb such language and protect Chinese-Americans through tough hate crime legislation.
To that end, a bill has now been passed in Congress to crack down on anti-Asian hate crimes. But Min says the bigger picture is yet to change.
“All of these things are extremely helpful, for sure. [But] the fundamental policy of dealing with China has not changed at all,” she says.
The Biden administration has continued much of Trump’s ‘tough on China’ stance, courting the approval of many Americans who fear that the U.S. is losing its grip on global power.