Linda Wu ’20
President Donald Trump has been calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” publically. Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford captured an image of President Trump’s notes during a daily coronavirus task force briefing where Trump crossed out “corona” before “virus” and replaced it with “Chinese.” When asked why he calls COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” during a White House press briefing on March 19th, he stated, “It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate. […] I have great love for all of the people from our country, but as you know China tried to say at one point […] that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen, it’s not gonna happen, not as long as I’m President. It comes from China.”
Why does he do that? Is it really because he is protecting the US from some nonsense conspiracy theories? He could have provided evidence from some latest science publications, which clearly state that the virus was not made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered. Politicians, especially the evil ones, never miss chances to make themselves look virtuous. Trump, being famous for benefiting himself politically by adopting hateful rhetoric, can’t simply be trying to be geographically accurate when labeling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” So I find it necessary to look behind the scenes of Trump’s reasoning and assert that antagonism is not the way to solve problems. Being Chinese, or any ethnic group in this world, is not being the virus. Racism/xenophobia is the virus.
1. Finding a scapegoat. Undeniably, the Chinese government’s mishandling of the virus at the beginning of this year triggered its massive spread. (I have no intention to cover for governmental misbehavior). But does this mean that Trump should blame all Chinese people for the spread of the virus? The US was one of the first countries that closed its borders to people who had recently traveled to China (even before the massive outbreak there). It makes no sense for people who are from China or who have been to China to hold responsibility for the epidemic. The media, government, and politicians ignored how other countries in Asia responded to the virus for months and kept telling people the virus was just another “flu” and the whole thing was a “hoax.” For example, during a campaign rally in South Carolina on February 28th, Trump kept downplaying the risk in the US and claimed the outbreak was “[the Democrats’] new hoax.” On March 9th, Sean Hannity said, “I see it, again, as let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” All these claims made it clear to the public who should be responsible for the spread of the virus. Of course, Trump doesn’t want to be responsible. So diverting people’s attention and making things “foreign” or “Chinese” can free him from criticism.
2. Preparing for his 2020 campaign. Trump has been using Americans’ fear and hatred towards foreigners since the last election. Only when people stop criticizing him and his administration for misjudging COVID-19 and divert their criticism towards the US’s long-standing “enemy” will he have the chance to get re-elected. So the racist rhetoric that deliberately goes against the Chinese people makes him the nation’s “hero” and “protector.” Also, he might influence more swing voters by telling them COVID-19 is a “Chinese virus.” The xenophobia/racism against the US’s Asian population will, of course, increase accordingly.
3. Creating the image of a powerful foreign enemy. China’s growing power has hurt US hegemony. Since China is a non-democratic country, the Western world in general would rather treat them as a potential enemy than an ally. It is clear that the Trump administration seeks a chance to take down this enemy. Trump’s adoption of racist and hateful rhetoric, in fact, aims to infuriate the Chinese government as well as the Chinese population. Similar to his strategy of uniting Americans with fear, he unites the Chinese nation with intense discontent and anger. A more united China would heighten the Western world’s fear of China. Fear decreases people’s ability to think critically, increasing Trump’s chances of re-election.
4. Laying a foundation for potential sanctions on China. Republican politicians, for example, Sen. Tom Cotton, have linked the coronavirus’s “villainy” with China’s, falsely suggesting that China (which has suffered the greatest losses) had a hand in developing the virus and announcing that the U.S. would “hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world.” These statements have aggravated the chance of a possible war between the US and China. To win this war, if it were to ever happen, the US would highly likely obey the “first strike rule,” that is to attack first. But no peaceful and friendly human beings would allow such a war. Trump’s rhetoric, in this case, lays a perfect foundation for ethical reasons. In short, the US could use the “Chinese virus” as a virtuous reason to produce economic sanctions and military attacks on China, which would inevitably become a war.
5. Hurting the Democratic Party. The Democrats will— they must, they have to—react to the increasing xenophobia/racism in the US. But, when the Democrats start making more statements “against xenophobia/racism” or “against calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus,” it is not hard to imagine that Trump would accuse them of being “pro-Chinese” or even “colluding with the Beijing government.” In order to prevent being accused as spies, the Democrats are unlikely to exert much effort in protecting the Asian population in the US. In addition, if the virus gets worse, Trump will keep blaming the Chinese according to his “Chinese virus” logic. If the virus is finally under control, full credit must go to him. So in either situation, he has prepared for further steps to politicize the virus, whereas the Democrats might not easily fight back on this issue.
6. Dividing Asian Americans and Asian countries more. Being a minority in the US, Asian Americans suffer from discrimination. This might already make some Asian Americans, especially teenagers, reluctant to embrace their home culture in order to be accepted by the mainstream world. When rhetoric like “Chinese virus” or “Kung Flu” prevails, Asian Americans will struggle even more for their own identities in a racist society and probably identify themselves even less with their home cultures. We all have seen this with reports on increased mistreatment of people of Asian descent— yelled at, beaten, their businesses boycotted.
I really hope Trump stops using hateful words, but I do know it’s impossible for someone as petty as him. But love and peace! Humans, don’t forget love and peace! We are all in this together, and we will fight this together 🙂
Linda Wu ‘20 is a Political Science and German Studies double major from Ningbo, China. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.