Street scene in Hong Kong — or is is Portland?

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 8, 2020

Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday imposing sanctions on senior Chinese Communist Party officials over crackdowns on political dissent in Hong Kong was a strong statement for democracy — and a move to keep China in his reelection crosshairs as a election prop.

It’s a little late, but still welcome.

As with a U.S. ban on use of TikTok and WeChat (enforceable how exactly?) and a finding that the Chinese are looking to influence our elections, it was the first such outward statement by the Trump administration to punish China for internal repression, and it felt designed to draw support even from political foes and the ire of the Chinese.

At the same time, it’s too bad that Trump can’t see political dissent in the United States the same way.

No, here, a Black Lives Matter demonstration to highlight centuries of mistreatment at the hands of police and other institutions is cause for calls for Law & Order. A gathering of anti-government protesters who start bonfires in Portland and other cities is cause for deploying unmarked federal troops with tear gas and live ammunition.

The sanctions, which targeted the Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, followed an executive order over efforts to suppress democracy protests in Hong Kong, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy.”

Sure, we get it. China is now officially Enemy Number 1, except for American journalists who question Trump. So, anything pro-Chinese is suddenly toxic, from failed trade talks to economic policies to espionage hidden in social media platforms and 5G technology to human rights abuses against the largely Muslim Uighur minority.

In fact, it’s a big part of your reelection bid. Tough Trump Stands Up to China. Russia, not so much, North Korea not so much, Turkey not at all, Iran, yes, sort of.

Defender of Democracy

But before China says it, can we ask ourselves: Hey Mr. Trump, when are you going to take an equally balanced view towards treatment of dissent in the United States? When are you going to acknowledge that there was not just one George Floyd police abuse? When are you going to look at systemic mistreatment of Black and brown communities, unfair rules for gays and transgender people, equal treatment for non-Christians, poor, homeless, disabled or women?

Three months before the end of your four years in office, and now, suddenly, you’re going to stand up as the Defender of Democracy? You’ve let Russians slide on intervening in our elections, you’ve let North Korea snooker you into kissy-face diplomacy, you’ve let Turkish security thugs with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan manhandle U.S. citizens on the streets of Washington, but now you’re the democracy shouter?

You are deploying Homeland Security agents in the hundreds over the objections of local officials with weaponry to turn on American citizens at will and in pursuit of election posturing to kill dissent in this country, but you now want to be seen as an international champion for speaking out against the government.

Have you seen the videos from a year’s worth of dissent in Hong Kong? They look just like dissent in Portland. Would you feel better if the Hong Kong leader picked up a Bible upside-down and held it for a photo shoot while the tear gas was still dissipating?

You want to stand for anti-government protests in Hong Kong, where they burn national flags, and for better treatment of Muslims, and for the rights of people to be free from police crackdown?

China as Enemy

After a year in which China moved to tighten the rules in Hong Kong, Beijing announced in June that it was imposing a new national security law in the former British colony, granting powers to stop dissent. The United States has been considering what to do since then. Trump signed an executive order ending the special status that the United States grants Hong Kong in diplomatic and trade relations, in a clear rebuke to China but had stopped short of these new sanctions.

The backdrop here is the November election, failed China trade talks, and a need for Trump to have a foe to use in his campaign. China fits the bill, especially because the pandemic started there. After praising Chinese leader Xi Jinping early on for work to contain the virus, Trump gradually has dumped all responsibility for the pandemic on China.

At the same time, Trump has campaigned on his own “toughness” towards China, saying that challenger Joe Biden will not stand up to China.

Whatever you make of the campaign rhetoric, it has led inexorably to Trump the Defender of Democracy saying the exact opposite of Trump the Law Enforcer. Trump fans may see no issue in this but in my opinion-writing business, that’s called hypocrisy.

Which Trump do you want us to believe?


Journalist, musician, community volunteer