In last Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, leading GOP candidate Donald J. Trump attempted to distance himself from recently resurfaced 1990 remarks made to Playboy magazine. At that time, he called the Chinese government’s violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen student protest movement as proof of “the power of strength.”
It was an absurd remark to make in 1990, amid a global outflow of support for students such as myself, who peacefully called on our government for increased participatory politics and economic inclusion. It was even more ludicrous to be defending it in 2016 as a presidential candidate.
Trump tweaked his 1990 comments by calling the massacre of unarmed students and Beijing citizens “horrible.” But he revealed the true underpinnings of his ideology — if it is such — by referring to the months’ long build-up to the violence as a “riot,” echoing Chinese Communist Party terminology.
Speaking personally, after 27 years in exile from that “riot” — which the entire world watched in horror as the Chinese government turned tanks and AK47s on its own people — I think I can speak for all fellow exiled and imprisoned Chinese in condemning Trump. We condemn his comments made in 1990 and we condemn them again in 2016.
I am not alone in appealing to the very same Americans who offered Chinese such as myself refuge when our own government deserted us to put aside partisan disputes and unite against Trump.
Trump, a privileged comeback king from a litany of failed fast-buck business scams, is an enemy of the values that America deeply defines itself by: the same values that have long provided hope to the victims of oppressive power worldwide.
Turning back the clock, Ronald Reagan, at least, understood that America stood for something more than groveling respect for “the power of strength.” In 1964, in the speech that launched his political career, he reminded Americans, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
In 1938, Mao Zedong, on the other hand, said, “Political power grows from the barrel of a gun.”
Less than a generation later, Mao and the Chinese Communist Party had attained complete dominion over China. It has since become an economic juggernaut. Nevertheless, the “barrel of a gun” rules. Politically, in China, nothing has changed — if anything it has become worse in recent years.
Those of us who have fought for freedom anywhere in the world worry that something is about to change in America. Let us hope that is not so. But I speak from personal experience when I say that Trump’s “power of strength” is backed by “the barrel of a gun.”