Read: Meet Gary Locke, America’s new ambassador to China
In other words: Locke is not a Chinese official, as the Trump campaign made him out to be, apparently because of the way he looks and because he was standing next to a Chinese flag.
“It is racial stereotyping at its worst. Asian Americans—whether you’re second-, third-, or fourth-generation, will always be viewed as foreigners,” Locke told me today. “We don’t say that about second- or third-generation Irish Americans or Polish Americans. No one would even think to include them in a picture when you’re talking about foreign government officials.”
Locke is justifiably bewildered by being thrown into the middle of the campaign. “For a lot of Asian Americans, it’s not surprising, but it is disheartening,” he said.
Read: The other problematic outbreak
Locke’s father was part of the Normandy invasion, then was ordered along with the rest of the Fifth Armored Division to the Battle of the Bulge. When Locke watched Band of Brothers, he says, he recognized his father’s story in it. He grew up in a housing project in Seattle, and went on to a long political career that took him through the state legislature, county government, two terms as governor, three years as Barack Obama’s commerce secretary and then two years as Obama’s ambassador to China, from 2011 to 2013. These days, he’s back home, watching the coronavirus crisis unfold in his own state and using his down time in self-isolation to build a second-story deck on his house and finish up some gardening projects. His grown kids are worried he’s going to fall and break his back, like he did 20 years ago, when he was in the middle of budget negotiations with the legislature in Olympia.
One of Locke’s friends has already died of COVID-19. His first campaign treasurer is in the hospital. And now he’s suddenly been pulled into the presidential campaign by an inadvertent cameo—which he said fits into a long history of racism against Asians in America, stretching from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, to the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes as the president and his allies repeatedly refer to the pandemic as the “Chinese virus.”
In a statement he scrambled to put out this afternoon, Locke said Trump was “fanning hatred.” He said with hate crimes and discrimination on the rise across the country, “the Trump team is making it worse. Asian Americans are Americans. Period.”
In what seems like both an obvious continuation of past behavior and a sign of what’s to come, the Trump campaign responded by insisting that including Locke was intentional, serving a political purpose that would have been recognizable only to the president’s super fans: that it was actually a subliminal nod to the conspiracy theory that Biden helped his son secure a business deal by bringing him on an official trip. (Hunter Biden did fly to China on Air Force Two and has said he did have a few business meetings while there, but aside from a brief handshake that the vice president shared with one of his son’s business partners, no connection between Hunter’s business dealings and his father’s position has ever been shown.) “The shot with the flags specifically places Biden in Beijing in 2013. It’s for a reason. That’s the Hunter Biden trip. Memory Lane for ol’ Joe,” the Trump campaign’s communications director, Tim Murtaugh, tweeted. Later, the Republican National Committee’s rapid-response director defensively tweeted a screenshot of the clip that included only Biden and the Chinese flag, not Locke or the American flag that was onstage too.