For all their smarts, Asian Americans can be pretty dumb.
They support Democrats in droves, and Democrats support race-based affirmative action. Last week, a lawsuit revealed just how discriminatory that kind of decision-making can be. At Harvard, racial balancing — in the guise of a personality score for applicants — appears to be systematically reducing the admission of Asian American students to the university.
The Harvard scandal contains a lot of takeaways, but here’s the one I hope sticks with my fellow Asian Americans: It’s time for us to end our blind loyalty to the Democratic Party and support instead politicians who will promote our interests.
Asian Americans are the most dynamic minority group in the U.S. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the Asian population in the U.S. grew by nearly 50%. According to social science surveys and the census, they are the wealthiest and best-educated Americans. They are more likely to run a small business than any other racial group. They are deeply religious, with strong family values and a low divorce rate. Asian families push their children hard to score at the top of standardized tests and to achieve sterling grade-point averages.
In recent presidential elections, Asian Americans have consistently voted Democratic. In 2012, exit polling shows that 73% of Asian voters turned out for Barack Obama, second only, among racial/ethnic groups, to African Americans. In 2016, two-thirds of Asian voters supported Hillary Clinton, again second to black Americans and this time tied with Latinos. Asian Americans last voted for a Republican for president way back in 1996, when they went for Bob Dole (about the only voters who did, it seems).
The Democratic Party has rewarded this unwavering support with an unyielding defense of race-based school admissions and government programs such as the one that’s been working against Asian Americans at Harvard.
Every Supreme Court justice appointed by a Democratic president has upheld race-based school admissions programs in the name of diversity. Democratic administrations have aggressively supported these same programs in court. In California, Democrats have sought repeatedly to overturn Proposition 209, the law that prevents UC Berkeley and UCLA from rescurrecting the use of race as a factor in their admission process. In New York City today, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio proposes to end the standardized single-test admission system used by magnet schools — because too many Asians do too well on the tests.
Harvard, and the Democratic Party, favor “holistic” admissions policies that yield what is considered to be the “right” balance of racial and ethnic groups on campus. Under pressure of a lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admission, the university disclosed that Asians would make up 43% of the student body if academic scores alone dictated admissions. But Harvard ranks applicants on their strengths in five categories. Even though Asians score highest on academics and extracurricular activities, Harvard gave them the lowest possible score on personal traits such as humor, sensitivity, creativity, grit and leadership.
The personal rating kept Asians to 26% of admissions in 2013. Harvard then made “demographic” adjustments that further reduced the class to 19% Asian, which magically appears to be the same percentage of Asians that’s been admitted to Harvard for years. Ivy League schools used similar criteria and methods early in the last century to avoid admitting Jewish students.
University admissions is not the only thing over which Asian Americans and Democrats should disagree. Democrats have led the resistance to the Republican Congress’ tax cuts and to the Trump administration’s deregulation platform; Asians, meanwhile, run the mom-and-pop stores and small businesses that suffer the most from growing government. As court cases about wedding cakes and healthcare coverage have shown, Democrats have waged federal and state war on the right of some religious people to refuse to obey laws supporting abortion rights or gay marriage; Asians are among the most fervent of evangelical Christians.
Why Asian Americans refuse to vote their interests remains a deep puzzle. Part of the problem rests at the feet of Republicans. Like past immigrants, many Asians first land in America’s great cities, but the Republican Party no longer seriously contests elections in the inner cities. Asian Americans who rely on municipal government for safe streets, business licenses and good schools may never meet a serious GOP politician. It would come as no surprise that these immigrants, especially those who have fled authoritarian nations, would join the Democratic Party, simply to get a fair shake.
More insidiously, Asian Americans may also be brainwashed by their respect for higher education. As the Harvard situation shows, some of the nation’s best schools are willing to corrupt merit and achievement in the service of a politically correct racial balance. Asians may come to think that ideology is as “true” as the scientific research produced by Nobel Prize-winning universities. Asians are fighting for admission to the very institutions that discount their talents and achievements.
Asian Americans can change their self-defeating politics simply by questioning their loyalty to the Democratic Party. The smartest voters keep themselves in play, choosing candidates who truly represent their self-interest, election by election. I believe politicians who support fair competition in the markets and in our schools — most likely Republicans — best represent Asian Americans. And Asian voters would benefit not only themselves but the American people as a whole by rejecting anyone who supports the use of race rather than merit to pick winners, losers and even Harvard students.
John Yoo is a law professor at UC Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a degree in American history.