Because of my multiple tours in Vietnam as a CIA officer, and having authored two books about the fall of Saigon and the plight of our allies, I feel a special affinity and affection for Vietnamese Americans spread across the U.S.
But I have been dismayed to learn how many of these kindred spirits, who because of bitter experience ought to detest Donald Trump, remain in thrall of him.
Particularly vexing was recent Facebook exchange in which several Vietnamese fanboys swoon over his handling of the George Floyd demonstrations.
The lead-off post lauds him for venturing forth on June 1 to pray over a damaged DC landmark, St. John’s Church, which is hard by the White House. Attached to the shout out is a copy of the now infamous news photo of the President perched on the church doorstep, brandishing a Bible like a tablet from the Mount.
“God bless you, Mr. President,” exudes the respondent.
It is this bit of theater and the events surrounding it that prompted General Jim Mattis, Trump’s former defense secretary, to go rogue on his ex-boss last week. In an extraordinary open letter, he denounced the President for his endlessly divisive politics and for threatening to use active duty troops against Americans who’re in the streets, protesting police brutality. He also mocked the “bizarre photo op” at the church.
Just before heading to St. John’s Trump announced he was ordering U.S. military units into major hot spots around the country. A mixed contingent of U.S. Park Police, Secret Service and National Guard personnel then moved into Lafayette Park near the church to disperse the demonstrators there with tear gas and to make way for the President’s grand entrance.
The demonstrators were rallying peacefully and posed no threat to him. And yet, there he was, our carrot-topped Elmer Gantry, all tricked out in ersatz masculinity, vibrating with righteous indignation meant to underscore his law-and-order tough guy image.
A follow-up post from another Vietnamese admirer extolled the President for standing up for religious beliefs and defending church property.
That did it for me. I whipped out my I-pad and hammered out a response, the essence of which appears below.
Alas, my Vietnamese friends, your endorsement of this false prophet ignores his racist impulses, his abiding contempt for the least fortunate among us, and his fetish for keeping all of us at each other’s throat.
If you believe this “Christian” would have rallied to your side in your greatest hour of need, during the fall of Saigon, I have one cautionary word for you: “Kurds.” When these valiant allies became an inconvenience to Trump’s on-again-off-again policies in Syria, he simply dumped them. This time, there wasn’t any emergency heli-lift to pluck the discards out of harm’s way.
And lest you think the incalculable contributions you have made to this country entitle you to any special dispensation from Trump, think again. Just last year he explored ways of sending some of you back to Communist Vietnam as part of his immigration crackdown.
Here’s the way the news site, Just Security, put it on August 29, 2019:
“The Trump administration has reinterpreted a 2008 agreement with Vietnam in multiple ways to expand the categories of refugees it can deport, including permanent residents who have committed certain crimes and others who came to the United States as children after the Vietnam War and have lived in their adopted country most of their lives. The effort, which appears to have affected even offspring of U.S. troops who served in the Vietnam War, is part of a broad push to increase the number of immigrants with criminal convictions who are eligible for removal from the U.S, including permanent residents.”
Outgoing Governor Jerry Brown of California, the largest Vietnamese enclave in the country, pushed back against this abomination and kept Little Saigon and its redoubts from being pillaged by Homeland Security. But the very prospect of such a betrayal should be enough to chill even the most ardent Trump worshippers among you.
And in case that photo of the Bible-wielding president has you convinced he’s a God-fearing Christian like yourself or at least a compassionate ecumenical, please remember that his every posture is transactional, designed to serve his own interests.
By his own admission, he considers himself too perfect and morally exempt to be contrite about anything. He once proudly retweeted a follower who likened him to “the Second Coming of God” because of his support for Israel.
“I have a great relationship with God,” he told Jake Tapper in 2016.
Unabashed by his own spiritual vacuity, he has repeatedly confessed to being so physically attracted to Ivanka he would “date” her if she weren’t his flesh and blood.
During the Presidential campaign, when faced with exposure for romancing a porn star during Melania’s pregnancy — something many would consider a breach of holy marriage vows — he merely whipped out his checkbook and tried to bury his indiscretion under a non-disclosure agreement. Within days he was busily trying to finesse a newly discovered tape on which he can be heard bragging about getting all the women he wants simply by grabbing them by their privates.
Asked in the Tapper interview if he has ever sought God’s forgiveness for any of his behavior, he conceded, “I’m not sure I have.”
“I don’t do a lot of things that are bad,” he added, “I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture.”
How does that fit with Christian piety as you understand it, or the teachings of the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao or any variation of Buddhism, or the precepts of personal responsibility and duty to family that Vietnamese culture holds dear?
If you don’t have an answer, that is the answer.
That said, I know that many of you, like our Cuban brethren in Miami, are instinctively drawn to the Republican Party because of its traditional anti-Communism, and are willing to give Trump a pass on almost anything as long as he stands up to Communist China’s Xi Jinping.
Be careful, though. Too often when Trump appears to be standing up, he is on his knees.
Long before launching his trade war against China, Trump nuzzled up to Xi over chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago in hopes of persuading him to strong arm North Korea’s bat-crazy bomb maker, Kim Jong Un. Two years later, after switching gears on Xi and going toe to toe with him on trade issues, Trump tried to con fellow Americans into believing that the tariffs he imposed on imports from China would “tax” its consumers, not our own, as if we were fools.
In fact, we paid the price for Trump’s bloated bravado — and are still paying for it — even as Xi snuffles triumphantly into his N-95 face mask.
Admittedly, Trump is finally holding Xi accountable for mismanaging and covering up the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan City. But again, constancy is not the President’s strong suit. Before he was against Xi’s handling of the burgeoning pandemic, he was all for it, praising him repeatedly in January and February for doing (as he said on one occasion) “a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”
Why the sweet talk? Because he needed Xi’s help in resolving the trade war as it threatened to drag on infinitely. What caused Trump to change his tune was another blossoming priority — the need to distract from his own mismanagement of the pandemic. China remains an imminently convenient scapegoat.
As Joe Scarborough delights in saying, Trump is a political “day trader,” always in for instant gratification with nary a principled bone in his body. His schizophrenic relationship with Xi cinches that argument.
Now we come to an issue that rankles me personally and should you as well, Trump’s Vietnam war record — or lack of it.
Faced with having to serve alongside your sons, fathers, brothers and countless Americans in defense of the nationalist cause, Trump punted.
As the last of his four educational deferments ran out, his father paid a doctor to conjure a medical condition — nonexistent bone spurs — to keep young Donald out of the military forever. The two of them then launched real estate projects together and shamed themselves by practicing racial discrimination, using any trick available, some of them legal at the time, to keep people of color out of Trump residential properties.
On weekends, while your own loved ones bled and died in places called Long An, the Triangle and Pleiku, Donald Trump partied like there was no tomorrow. He would later joke about the sexually transmitted diseases to which he was exposed, likening them to the hazards of Vietnam combat. He boasted about having ducked the draft and mocked as fools and saps those who weren’t so clever.
In his race for the presidency, he slimed heroes like John McCain who fought alongside your own heroes and suffered imprisonment at enemy hands.
“I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump told one campaign rally.
In light of his incurable cynicism, do you have any doubt how he would describe those of you who held out to the last and wound up in Communist reeducation camps?
I suspect you have a pretty good idea what he would say about you and know in your hearts that you owe no honor to this coward.
After winding up the draft above I scrolled through polling data and confirmed the good news: Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the last two national elections.
But the numbers are like enemy body counts during the war — a bit squishy. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the U.S. But according to the FiveThirtyEight website they make up such a small slice of the total U.S. population, roughly seven percent, that “pollsters often don’t sample enough of them to draw robust conclusions” about their voting habits. A further complication is the large number of Asian Americans who register as independents — 36 percent of them in California alone.
Of all Asians countrywide, the largest number voting Republican are Vietnamese. Thirty two percent backed Trump in 2016. Though that was a minority of the Vietnamese American electorate, it was larger than the comparable percentage in any other Asian voter group.
In 2018, young Vietnamese voters in California’s Orange County helped drive the blue wave there. Democrats hope the same thing will happen with Millennials in every Asian group across the nation, and the Democratic National Committee is now investing heavily in courting such constituents.
But, in my humble opinion, even such best laid plans could easily founder under the stresses of our see-sawing health and economic crises and persistent racial tensions. Asian Americans like everybody else may prefer in such circumstances to hedge their bets by opting for the devils they know rather than the better angels they don’t.
For this reason, I consider it imperative, even at the risk of being presumptuous, to remind my Vietnamese friends how uncongenial Trump has been to everything they stand for.
It is never easy of course to sway true believers, as I was reminded recently when a Vietnamese gentleman took exception to one of my anti-Trump posts and responded by labeling me a communist. That knocked the wind out of me. It wasn’t so long ago (only a half a lifetime) that government prosecutors raked me over the coals for publishing an unapproved CIA memoir, Decent Interval, in which I excoriate our Communist adversaries during the war and condemn U.S. agencies for not doing enough to keep the Viet Cong from inflicting a bloodbath on indigenous friends and allies.
I guess there is a single lesson to be drawn from this: Irony is the only certain survivor of COVID-19 and the splintering of our society.