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Don Blankenship, Donald Trump, and the “China People”

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Of all the perplexing things that Don Blankenship, the coal-mining executive turned Republican candidate in West Virginia’s U.S. Senate primary, said in recent days, the most curious might be his definition of racism. In a campaign spot, Blankenship had accused “Swamp Captain Mitch”—he meant Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, from the neighboring state of Kentucky—of getting rich off of his “China family,” and creating millions of jobs for “China people.” When questioned later about his choice of words, Blankenship said that his comments couldn’t be racist, because “races are Negro, white Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian. There’s no mention of a race. I’ve never used a race word.” At this point, you might have suspected that Blankenship has contracted President Trump’s campaign-trail pathology of foot-in-mouth, not to mention his penchant for accruing new offenses in the act of justifying old ones.

In fact, Blankenship proudly declared himself “Trumpier than Trump” and doubled down on the Trumpiest campaign tactics: unironic self-aggrandizement and unabashed disdain for the facts. If Trump, a billionaire who has been repeatedly accused of stiffing contractors—indeed, has boasted of it—could claim to represent the interests of the working class, then Blankenship could surely run as a champion of miners, despite having fought the miners’ union and spent a year in federal prison for violating mine-safety standards that led to an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, in 2010, which killed twenty-nine workers. (Blankenship has denied any culpability in the explosion, claiming that his sentencing was due to “Obama prosecutors” and an “Obama judge.”) The Trumpian bigotry of Blankenship’s “China people” comment was directed at McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation and an immigrant who was born in Taiwan. Blankenship was also referring to Chao’s ninety-year-old father, who founded an American shipping company called Foremost Group, when he said that McConnell’s “China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.” (Chao received a sizable amount of money after her mother’s death, in 2007.) From these familial details, Blankenship reasoned that McConnell is soft on China—a theory advanced by Peter Schweizer, the author of the controversial “Clinton Cash,” in his new book, “Secret Empires.”

When I first read the phrase “China people,” I was immediately put in mind of the “mole people” of urban legend, the tribes of homeless outcasts who were said to live in cavernous spaces beneath our cities. Part of the strangeness of Trumpian America


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