Trump’s Chao and Iris Chang

Dedicated to the late great Iris Chang

In 2001, Elaine Chao, a Harvard Business School graduate who had served as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission and assistant secretary of transportation, made history as the first Chinese American to accept a Cabinet position when President George W. Bush named her secretary of labor.

Now she’s Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, offering up a profile with many surprises.

Not long before the incomparable Iris Chang committed suicide near my former home rental in Los Gatos, California — a dozen years to this month on November 9th — lonely, and convinced that she was being hounded by “authorities”… she spoke with me about Elaine Chao and a number of other Chinese Americans who had “made it” in our racist society.

In her The Chinese in America, we find her speaking of Chao,

“When her critics attacked her business ties with China, her husband, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saw ‘subtle racism,’ ‘yellow fever,’ and xenophobic attitudes in the media.” That was embedded in the book adjacent to the description I open with here above.

But below all of the surface, superficial commentary, Iris confided a number of details, provided an alternative point of view about Chao and her “successful counterparts” like David Wu (the first Chinese American ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives). She didn’t want to speak in public about them negatively — understandably — in much the same vein that African-Americans were reluctant to be overly critical of Obama as he was making his mark in history.

But the inside dope was that she understood the corrupt nature of all of them. How self-serving advantage took precedence over the Collective Good. In a nutshell, that bothered her enormously, her having to celebrate and simultaneously bemoan their carving out of inroads for her race.

The “corruption” that Iris alluded to was not restricted to the financial realm. For she knew that anyone who did not stand as a global citizen, who placed national service above solidarity for the entire human race would not be an asset — ultimately — for our dire 21st Century needs. And if she were alive today, I’m sure she wouldn’t be holding out any hope that the xenophobia in vogue at the moment — focused on Muslims primarily, not Chinese — would be a serious proactive concern for the new Transportation Secretary.

Shortly after Iris’ body was found in her car off of Highway 17 in Los Gatos, the accepted explanation became that she had been plagued by depression, and seriously pushed over the edge by drugs she had been taking to combat her illness. But I can tell you that she was deeply troubled by what she had been learning about the complicity of members of her own race in our horrid momentum, and was on the verge of not only publishing some groundbreaking insights which troubled the Japanese government, but felt she was being “followed” by forces in the American government who did not want such information made public.

I know that she was sick. But she was sickened too by what her fine, intrepid investigative journalism was revealing.

We should move in solidarity with her visceral suspicions, with caution in mind.

Richard Oxman has been an activist since he was seven-years-old at the Peekskill Riots. He's been a professor and a worldwide educator on all levels for half-a-century, and he can be contacted at Read other articles by Richard.