Farhat Popal and Christopher Walsh at the George W. Bush Presidential Center:
Attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders grew so bad in the early days of the coronavirus that the Asian Pacific Policy Planning Council launched a website to track them. In its first two weeks, the STOP AAPI HATE website received over 1,100 reports of physical assault, verbal harassment, and shunning of Asian Americans…
Current events highlight the pitfalls of sacrificing precision in order to create “bumper sticker” talking points that crudely shape public perception for political purposes. Sadly, this is a tactic used across the political spectrum, but that doesn’t excuse it. The American people should hold their leaders accountable on such issues, regardless of political affiliation, and not allow “whataboutism” to compromise principles. And while it’s unrealistic to attribute a single cause to any rise in discrimination related to the global pandemic, having clear, consistent, empathetic, and trusted leadership is a factor.
While such leadership qualities foster stability in any time, their importance increases in a crisis because societal tensions are higher. Used together, they steer frightened and frustrated people away from fear, suspicion, and paranoia.
Look at the example of President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Angry people were channeling their rage through unacceptable violence against Muslim-Americans. Six days after 9/11, President Bush appeared at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., flanked by Muslim American religious leaders, and offered a strong rebuke of this persecution.
In doing so, President Bush stripped away any cloak of “patriotism” that some individuals might have used to justify bigotry and violence, stating, “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”
Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.President George W. Bush, September 17, 2001
Unfortunately, leaders aren’t always quick to acknowledge and repudiate violations of our founding principles.
More than 40 years after Japanese Americans – having been stripped of their dignity and rights as citizens – were released from World War II-era internment camps, President Reagan offered reparations from an ashamed nation. He stated: “We gather here today to right a grave wrong… 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race…”