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Gallup Podcast
Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Bias, Hate Against Asian Americans
Gallup Podcast

Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Bias, Hate Against Asian Americans

Sen. Tammy Duckworth joins the podcast to discuss U.S. perceptions of how Asian Americans are treated as well as the recent end of the war in Afghanistan. The senator from Illinois, Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient shares her perspectives on U.S. military objectives, women in Afghanistan and the future of Iraq.

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Mohamed Younis 00:07

I'm Mohamed Younis and this is The Gallup Podcast. In this episode, American perceptions of the treatment of Asian people reached historic lows this summer. We look into the "why" behind that change with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, as well as discuss America's military exit from Afghanistan. Tammy Duckworth has served as the junior United States senator for the state of Illinois since 2017. Madam senator, welcome to the podcast.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 00:32
It's good to be on. Thanks for having me.

Mohamed Younis 00:34
We continue to see tragic acts of hate across America targeting Asian Americans. The reason I really was eager to speak with you is because, among all the years and generations we've been tracking of the American public's perception of how Asian people are treated in our society, as recently as 2013, 78% of Americans said they were satisfied. Today, it's at 46%. I want to start just by asking you, Was there previously a misunderstanding among the American public of the Asian American experience here in the U.S.?

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 01:06
Oh, definitely. I, I think that the past 18 months have really drove home to the American people that the AANHPI community is subject to significant discrimination, and I think there's a lot of real ignorance in terms of the history of AANHPIs in this country. And in fact, because of the "model minority myth," It's all, Asians, I think, especially -- Asians were, have been treated almost as the other group of Caucasians, like the other white people -- like that we're not true minorities; we're all, you know, really good at school and we're all engineers and doctors. And there's not folks in the AANHPI community that are really suffering, despite the fact that we have this history of significant discrimination -- whether it was internment of Japanese Americans or post-9/11, when a lot of Sikhs were actually subject to violence and killed. You know, so it's really important. And I think the responsible thing to do to fight back against the rise of the hate and violence against the AANHPI community recently, but also to teach the American public about the history of discrimination against AANHPI, so people are more aware that actually this has always existed.

Mohamed Younis 02:22
It's fascinating to, and frustrating, frankly, to see the focus when there are acts of hate against a particular group. We saw this with the murder of George Floyd, where the mainstream media really focuses on an issue or a community. And then the focus really shifts away. One of the challenges with the Asian American community, and really communities, is the really negative perception of China among the American public. It's been fascinating for me to compare and contrast perceptions of China as the No. 1 threat to U.S. national security interests, but to also contrast it with perceptions of Japan, which have improved dramatically and are now really on par with a country like Germany or the U.K. in the perceptions of most Americans. As Americans, how do we bridge that divide between challenges with policies of China -- which is certainly not a small player in Asia -- to separate it from this projection against a community at large. And, of course, I ask this also as a Muslim American, another community that kind of had its experiences, and still does, with this projection. How do you get over that?

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 03:26
I don't think you get over it. I mean you just, you have to confront and deal with it head on. I always say the PRC versus, you know, Chinese Americans for example -- to make it clear that when I'm talking about the PRC, I'm talking about the government, the communist government, the authoritarian government and their very bad policies. So I always try to make it clear in my language that I use the right verbiage. You know I think, unfortunately, part of this rise that we've been hearing is directly linked to our previous president, President Trump, where he started his presidency by really going after Muslims, as if, you know, a religion is a racial group or an ethnicity. But, you know, the ban on people coming to the U.S. from Muslim countries. That was the start of the Trump presidency, and it ended with him blaming East Asians in particular for the COVID-19. So this, I don't think it's accidental that you see this, this level of violence and discrimination happened in the last four years. We had a president who really championed it.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 04:30
In contrast to what happened, if you look at what happened immediately after 9/11, when President Bush really stepped up and said, This is we -- you know, Muslim Americans are Americans. This is not about Muslim Americans; these attacks by terrorists, one group of terrorists. And I thought that was a very responsible thing to do. So we as a nation need to come together and talk about the fact that we have this history of discrimination against -- I call it all the different flavors of Asians. Because they're -- one of the things about Asian, Asian Americans, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is that we are many flavors. That we come in many, in many different groups, but all of them have faced discrimination, and we're all treated as an other. We're rarely treated, you know, the way Irish Americans and Polish Americans are treated in Chicago, right. At no time did I ever have, when I was in the army, and my unit was all like Irish guys and Polish guys, they didn't really ever ask my buddies where they were from, although they asked me that all the time.

Mohamed Younis 05:27
It's so interesting that you bring that up, because one of the things I'm really dying to ask you -- and I ask you this not only as a veteran that obviously has seen combat, seen the worst of it, but also somebody who is now a senator and really watched what's happened in Afghanistan, really how the war has ended. I think it's safe to say, just looking through public opinion lens, that it really has been a bipartisan failure, if you will, as a policy. It's not really something that the public is blaming on one group or the other. Talk to us about how a nation with the strongest military really in human history can continuously have these challenges of failing to achieve our strategic objectives. Is it a gap between sort of political leadership and the military? One of the conundrums, senator, is that the military continues to be one of the institutions in American society that has immense respect and support among the public, at a time really, when a lot of institutions don't. But it finds itself one time, time and again, in these very difficult foreign policy challenges. How has it been for you to sort of reflect on how this war ended and the future of how we make better decisions?

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 06:35
Well, I mean, I have been arguing and calling for a review of what our objective is -- was in Afghanistan. That's the problem, right? And you talked about, we didn't achieve a strategic objective. We didn't know what the strategic objective was. The military has done its job, right? The military's job was to go in and kill Osama bin Laden and go after the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. We did that; the military did that. The problem that we had was that for 20 years, the political leadership failed to do its job in defining what the mission was and then sending the right people to do that job. The military's job is to go in and blow things up and kill the enemy; it's -- their job is not nation building. So to have had the United States military in Afghanistan for 20 years and expect that they were going to create a democratic nation is foolhardy.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 07:24
If you wanted to create a democratic nation, then we should have been investing in NGOs and the State Department and USAID and, and all of these other programs. And we should have been building up a criminal justice system. You know, all of those things that, parts of democracy that would allow the people in Afghanistan to say, Hey this, there's a better way of doing this than going back to the Taliban. You know, one of the reasons the Taliban gained support, especially in the provinces of Afghanistan, is that they delivered justice. But the local government, which is so corrupt, did not. So if you had, you know, your neighbor stole your livestock and you went to the local magistrate and, and tried to get help, you were probably asked to pay a bribe. And you probably never got justice, because the guy who stole your cattle or your, or your livestock may have paid off the police officers, right? But if you go to the Taliban, they mete out swift justice. They cut off their arms, you know, they come in to execute the guys. You still get justice. And so if we wanted to nation-build, then we should have funded those programs that actually built up a justice system that actually worked.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 08:36
I'll give you an example of one of the things I was really frustrated about. I, I went out to Afghanistan in 2014 or 2015 with just women, with just women congresswomen. And we went and we met with women in Afghanistan, and we met with women police cadets and women Afghan security forces cadets. And he said, "How is it going?" We got the men out of the room, because we said, If we're all women, we can talk with each other. And we got the male translators out of the room who were really there to watch over them. Because those men said, "No, no, no, these women don't speak English; we have to translate." We got the men out of the room so we were all women, and it turned out the women spoke beautiful English; they were wonderful. And what they said was, "Thank you for spending money to train me. But I gotta tell you, I'll never get to do my job because this government has not built any barracks or bathrooms in the police stations where I'm supposed to be working. So I can never go out there and do my job. I'm gonna get this training; I'm going to stay right here in Kabul, and I'm never going to go out into the provinces. And I'm never going to be able to deliver justice to the women in the provinces who might come to me and say, "I was raped; I was beaten; somebody stole from me."

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 09:41
And those, and so, what was our objective? If it was to nation-build, then we did not spend our money correctly, and we did not invest in the right programs. But if, you know, and don't expect the military to do a job it's not supposed to do. If you want us to kill the enemy, then send in the military. But political leaders need to come together and say, OK, now, what do we want? What is our objective?

Mohamed Younis 10:01
I have one question left, and I have to ask you about Iraq, a country that just recently had an election -- a relatively peaceful election, although the participation wasn't very high. As you sit today as a senator, what are the next kind of positive signals you're looking for in Iraq, to salvage some of the expense and time, and blood, sweat and tears that we put into that nation?

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 10:21
Well, I think that they're on a path, a good path. But I think they need to make some significant investments, and they need to really look at some priorities within their, within their government. The young people of Iraq are also still largely unemployed; there's not a significant banking system. This is, again, goes back to what I was saying about Afghanistan. If we really want Iraq to move along, then we should make those investments in Iraq. We should come in and, you know, try to put our influence on the Iraqi government to build up some of these programs. Because if we don't, we leave a vacuum for other people to move into, and then you could potentially have something that happens with the PRC coming in with their debt traps. And then, you know, we'll be back to where we were, where we were saying OK, you know, now you could have widespread dissatisfaction in Iraq, among the Iraqi youth, which are, you know, 50% of the population. If you're unemployed, you're going to look for some way to be employed. And we're failing there.

Mohamed Younis 11:16
That's Sen. Tammy Duckworth of the state of Illinois. Sen. Duckworth, thank you so much for being with us today.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth 11:21
My pleasure.

Mohamed Younis 11:29
That's our show. Thank you for tuning in. To subscribe and stay up to date with our latest conversations, just search for The Gallup Podcast wherever you podcast. And for more key findings from Gallup News, go to or follow us on twitter @gallupnews. If you have suggestions for the show, email The Gallup Poll Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.

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