Donald Trump’s Crusade Against Electric Vehicles Is Getting Racist

Trump’s rhetoric seems fringe and erratic. But coming from the putative leader of the Republican Party, such talk has a broader impact. In an apparent flashback to that 1981 sledgehammer scene, there have been numerous reported instances recently of vandalism at E.V. charging stations, complicating consumers’ efforts to charge their vehicles. Worse, Trump’s stoking hostility toward an already vulnerable group. Even before this recent vendetta on E.V.s, the Trumpist impulse to blame all Asians for the Covid-19 pandemic had led to a surge in anti-Asian racism, which has continued, with hate crimes widespread and nearly half of Asian Americans saying they have experienced discrimination. Some states have been trying to ban Chinese nationals from buying property; Florida actually passed such a law, though a federal court blocked it in February, and policymakers in Texas, Lousiana, and Alabama are considering similar racist restrictions.

This unhinged response to a trade war has a more mainstream—and Democratic—political analogue, as well. Anti-Chinese rhetoric is bipartisan, and although Trump and Biden have real differences on electric vehicles, their specific policies on China have been remarkably similar. In late February, Biden announced that the Department of Commerce would “conduct an investigation” into whether Chinese-made vehicles could be used for spying and sabotage—part of his promise to “make sure the future of the auto industry will be made here in America with American workers.” It’s good to protect American workers and union jobs, but this administration always manages to frame that worthy goal in the most paranoid way possible. The Biden administration routinely makes statements and gestures that seem alarmingly bellicose, like engaging in military provocation in the South China Sea. And speaking of paranoia and aggression, Democrats’ support for banning TikTok is embarrassing, likely to hurt the party with young voters, and simply a foolish look in a world of global communications from a nation that allegedly values free speech.

Violent rhetoric from politicians against specific minority groups, reinforced by real violence carried out at the grassroots, is a pattern with alarming historical precursors, whether in Nazi Germany or the antebellum American South. It doesn’t really matter whether you call it fascist or not—it’s scary and needs to stop. Vincent Chin died from exactly this sort of climate, fueled by American anxiety about who was making our cars. All Americans should shun Trump’s efforts to stoke a repeat of that nationalist violence. We should reject such poison when it comes from Democrats too.