Confessions of a disgruntled Chinese-American by George Koo
Heaven help any aspiring leader who wants to correct America’s problems at home and campaign on what the US needs to fix.
I am proud to be an 84-year-old Chinese-American: proud of my Chinese heritage and at one time proud to be an American. My friends frequently ask me why I am so critical of our government. I tell them that as a citizen, I have a right and duty to criticize when I see my country heading in the wrong direction.
It has not always been like this. One of my proudest moments was when I became a naturalized citizen many years ago. To be an American was something to be proud of and look forward to. I thought I was enjoying a charmed life and living in the best of two worlds.
Before I immigrated to America, I lived in China for my first 11 years, a country devastated by war with Japan. But I had the good fortune of living in a remote area of China that never saw one Japanese soldier. Thus I didn’t have to witness the many unspeakable acts of atrocity committed by the Japanese military.
When my mom, my sisters and I joined my dad in Seattle, he was a graduate student on a very limited income. We lived in the university housing project where each duplex was modestly better than a Quonset hut. But we lived within the district of one of the best elementary schools in town.
At Laurelhurst Elementary, my classmates, mostly from well-to-do families, helped me learn English as quickly as I could absorb it. A friend gave me helmet and shoulder pads and I quickly learned to play football. At no time did I feel the sting of racism. My welcome to America was all cookies and cream.
I graduated at the top of my senior class and received a scholarship and part-time job on campus to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By the time I became a young father raising a family in New Jersey, I was the supervisor of a materials-testing laboratory. My company encouraged me to complete my doctoral studies by giving me leave and financial support.
I was living my American dream. I even participated in exercising American democracy by becoming a grassroots worker campaigning for delegates going to the Democratic National Convention to cast their votes for Eugene McCarthy as the party’s presidential nominee.
But watching the 1968 Chicago convention on national TV, I was appalled and outraged. Mayor Richard Daley’s police force was supposed to maintain law and order. Instead, they were instigators of violence and chaos, clubbing the protesters outside the convention.
I wrote a letter to the Newark Evening News, a major daily in New Jersey, expressing my indignation. To my surprise, my letter was published. That encouragement caused me to think that expressing my opinion could make a difference.
After I moved my family to California, I continued to participate in civic affairs and local politics. I was the campaign manager for two friends running for the city council – at different times. One won and the other did not.
When my city decided to establish a “Human Relations Commission,” I was appointed to the first one. One of my commendations read: “His service demonstrates his commitment to the community and the desire to promote the fullest participation of all members of the community.”
When Mike Honda decided to run for Congress and asked for my help, I was happy to help because he was an honorable and genuine human being with a generous heart.
He won on his first try and when we met for lunch to celebrate, he told me that his first task at hand was to raise a lot of money for his campaign war chest so that potential opponents would think twice about running to unseat him. His revelation surprised me but also drove home to me the realization that money had taken control of our democracy.
Fast-forward to today, and I keep asking myself, “Why has my country fallen so low?” We can’t seem to keep up with other developed countries that are our peers.
We unfailingly acknowledge the importance of education as critical to the future of our children, but we only talk and don’t do anything about it. The quality of education depends on the average household income in the local area where the school is located. Children from the city ghettoes hardly ever get a decent education and thus start out in life with a disadvantage that many are not equipped to overcome.
In some parts of our country teaching creationism has the same legitimacy as teaching science and mathematics. Some Americans still believe that our Earth is 6,000 years old. Ignorance is regarded as a badge of honor.
Thou shalt not commit perjury
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” I may have learned the oath from the long-running TV serial Perry Mason, but I came to understand that honesty and being truthful were among the foundational principles that made America great.
Today, public figures of any and all stripes tell lies and do not even bat an eyelash. They violate every statute of the constitution as if the laws of the land do not apply to them. There is no sense of honor and right or wrong or even any hint of shame.
Our two major political parties battle for control of the federal government and Congress. They devote virtually all of their energy and attention to outmaneuvering the other side just to gain an edge. Getting re-elected and retaining their seats in Congress have highest priority unless it’s to unseat someone from the other party. Pettiness reigns and national interest is rarely on the table.
My e-mail inbox is filled daily with solicitations from candidates running for public office asking me for a campaign contribution. People I have never heard of, running for the House or Senate or governor from a state far from California, and they don’t ever ask what issues I support. They simply presume that I care about their getting elected.
They just want my money. If I can write a big check, they will come running again and again. If I don’t write checks but can “bundle” a lot of checks from other contributors into a bagful, I will be regarded as a person of influence. America’s democracy is all about money and it takes more and more to enter the fray. Thoughtful and capable politicians are getting out.
Our roads and bridges are dilapidated, college and university tuition has been rising beyond most household budgets, women are denied the right to decide what’s good for their health, and schoolchildren are regularly slaughtered in mass shootings. These are just a few indicators of what’s wrong with America.
Heaven help any aspiring leader who wants to correct the problems at home and campaign on what America needs to fix. Such a candidate won’t get financial sponsors and won’t get nominated, much less win any election. Incumbents will not risk their chances of re-election by tackling these knotty issues and are very adept at kicking the can down the road.
The one sure-fire way to political success is to demonize China and attack China as our adversary, an easy adversary accepted by both parties. In the process, every ethnic Asian in America becomes a prospective target of hate crime, because “all Asians look alike.”
To add fuel to the fire, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation even boasted about the many cases of investigation opened daily on Chinese-Americans employed in American universities and research organizations.
He never talks about the disproportionate number of cases that were dismissed or dropped because of lack of evidence or the FBI’s haste to accuse. He doesn’t acknowledge the financial ruin suffered by the innocent victims because of the cost of their legal defense and their having to deal with careers in tatters.
A senator from Arkansas even suggested that students from China should not be allowed to come to the US for further studies in science and engineering but only on Shakespeare.
Indeed, because of arbitrary prosecutions, random violence from hate crimes and uncertain treatment on granting of visas, enrollment from China has already dropped substantially. There is nothing to suggest that this trend is likely to reverse.
Heretofore, Chinese-Americans have contributed far more than their pro rata would indicate. They come to America as part of China’s cream of the crop, already well trained and prepared to contribute with diligence and motivation. If they stop coming, it will be America’s loss.
Meanwhile, Washington is investing all its energy on pushing China’s head under water, all the while not doing anything to solve the social and economic ills rooted within our country. China will continue to work around the American embargoes and sanctions and surpass the US with one technological advance after another.
It already has taken the lead in many technical disciplines, Shakespearean scholarship not being among them.
George Koo retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield’s, a novel green building platform. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeKoo.