This is a series of opinion pieces on the Lao America response to post-elections 2016.
For Lao Americans, the results of this year’s presidential election in many ways didn’t come as a surprise. After all, since our diaspora began over four decades ago, we’ve seen that any number of unusual candidates can rise into public office, such as actors Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, or Jesse Ventura. A good study of civics obliges us to place faith in the electoral college system, designed to ensure small states have an equal vote as much as larger states to preserve the republic. This year the statistics show that a little over 46% of eligible voters did not do so, but Minnesota, at least, came out in higher voter turnout than the national average. We know that our local fellow Southeast Asian and API communities organized to get out the vote and to encourage our fellow Lao to be civically-engaged.
For the next four years or so, the Republican party will now be in charge of all three branches of the US government, and there are many who’ve expressed concerns about what direction that will take. In a globalized world, it’s undeniable the impact US elections has on the state and welfare of Laos as the pivot takes place. Today we take a look at what this picture could look like for Lao Americans here at home and in Laos.
While Lao Americans have typically leaned towards the Democratic vote in the past, many hold no party affiliation whatsoever. For those who voted for Trump, it was a matter of yearning for ‘change’ and and a plea for improvement in their economic conditions.
Nationally, we’ve seen an uptick in reported hate, fear and violence against immigrants, LGBTQ, and women that have included Lao Americans. Rights watch groups such as The Southern Poverty Law Center, reported 701 incidents the week following elections so far, with 40% of them taking place in schools. This is problematic as research shows that Asian American students are highly bullied and with Lao students falling behind in math, reading and higher education attainment; a hostile learning environment will further damage our Lao children’s well-being.
Among the most pressing issue for many is whether or not the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, even as 2017 is already set to see a hefty increase in premiums per household. For the majority of our retired elders and young Lao American families, this could prove troubling.
National security will be tightened like never before. Deportation and immigration issues will be among those most widely debated and contested, thanks to Trump’s pledge to not only ‘build a wall’ but toughen the vetting process against new immigrants and cap the number of refugees. For groups from Laos, this means that our ongoing question on efforts to deport undocumented immigrants and those with criminal records are uncertain; as well as limited pathways to citizenship and visas for family reunification.
On the environmental front, advocates are concerned that many of our agreements on climate change with China and other nations will reverse, and that we will not encourage constructive environmental policies while deforestation and unsustainable practices continue to rise to meet market demands in resource-rich Laos.
Conservative judges will now be appointed to the Supreme Court who will make decisions from that perspective for over 20 years, if they follow the historical trend. Topics such as marriage equality, police and law reform, affirmative action policies in education, access to women’s healthcare; among others may come before the Supreme Court during this era.
While the initial reaction to US markets have been steady, global markets were shocked. If deficits rise, we could see cuts to programs on which the poor and middle class depend such as Social Security benefits. Domestically, it will be interesting to see if the Trump Administration retains the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs.
For Lao Americans, there are some questions now about the gains we recently saw following President Obama’s recent visit to Laos. Will the pledge of $10 million to assist in UXO clearance still be honored under President-elect Trump.
We should also question the shape that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will take, as President-elect Trump has vowed to dismantle it. It’s unclear how a TPP pact would fit into his global economic plans, and how Laos and its neighbors would be affected regarding labor, intellectual property, education and other resources as China’s stronghold will ultimately continue to dominate the region.
In the past, the US made it a policy to encourage and promote human rights, freedom of expression and religious freedom in Laos, which looks like the continued direction it will take, but it is likely under a Trump administration that US directed funding to support these programs will be severely impacted.
While we had hoped to see increased funding for the US Embassy in Vientiane to facilitate greater intercultural exchanges between Laotian artists, educators, and culture builders; this now seems unlikely, as does expanded support for Fulbright scholars, and foreign exchange programs.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
What’s happening against freedom of expression is one to keep high on our radar. After President-elect Trump held an unprecedented closed-doors meeting with press execs this week and demanded an apology from dissenting theater artists, his administration is setting a fire under the First Amendment. Freedom of expression makes outlets like LLOTP thrive and a threat to this constitutional right is a threat to us as well.
It’s imperative to monitor the nominated cabinet members rolling in too. Under a Trump presidency, what else should we expect? Will barriers be reduced for Lao American entrepreneurs? How will the United States now address its renewed relations and bilateral agreements with Laos? Will it continue to take on a role in the new administration or will Laos once again be put on the back burner? Is this the shift in our America that we had envisioned and hoped for?
Clearly, there are many questions to be asked and many unpredictable answers in the upcoming years ahead. In a divided America, even among Lao Americans, the American ideals and values of what many families once believed in during post-war migration is seemingly feeling very different. Some are happy with the results. Some are furious. But the impact of what this presidency means for Lao Americans overall will be one to continuously watch out for.
Bryan Thao Worra and Chanida Phaengdara Potter, firstname.lastname@example.org