Trump just cannot help himself. He appears to be hard-wired to default to his white supremacist/white racist history and mentality every single time adversity strikes.
This morning (March 18), in the latest of now daily press conferences ostensibly held to update and inform the American public about his regime’s efforts to thwart the out-of-control coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump opened the meeting by calling this disease the “Chinese virus.” That characterization was made without prompting or questioning by any reporters.
Once more with feeling: The very first thing out of his mouth, without being asked or prompted, this “leader of the free world” publicly smeared not only the 1.3 billion people of China, and America’s very own and substantial Chinese population, but all Asians everywhere on earth.
And, then, in answer to direct questions about his use of this term, Trump twice defended his obviously racist characterization, indicating that because the coronavirus outbreak began in China, there is nothing wrong…or racist about this descriptor — or him. He made this assertion in light of one reporter’s point that Asian Americans across the country are being harassed and discriminated against by mainly Trump supporters who have accepted his determination and declaration that this disease is ethnically and/or racially based.
And, when confronted with the fact that at least one high-level official in his regime has referred to this disease as the “Kung Flu,” Trump, as is his wont, first denied any knowledge of such a person or term; but then proceeded to say that that descriptor was probably okay with him as well.
Interestingly, Quartz.com has provided a brief history of this nation-state’s tendency to use disease as an excuse for its white racist/white supremacist go-to default position.
In terms of COVID-19, this never-ending resort to racism is deemed a “social pandemic” which tracks alongside good old-fashioned American anti-Asian racism and a generalized xenophobia against immigrants, especially dark-skinned (or any “non-white”) immigrants.
The Trump regime first criticized China for its failure to contain the outbreak, and has inexorably progressed from labeling it as the “Wuhan disease” (the Chinese city wherein the virus first surfaced), to “Asian Flu,” and now, at Trump’s repeated urging, the “Chinese virus.”
In the beginning, before the literal shutdown of most large and small business establishments throughout the country, physical and verbal attacks against Asians, especially in the UK and US, ramped up sharply. Indeed, Chinatowns throughout the US in particular experienced an almost 50% drop in foot traffic. At the same time, “mainstream” media outlets in the US began incessantly and ominously reporting that this novel coronavirus originated in “exotic” open-air Chinese meat markets.
Again, Trump’s racializing of this latest pandemic is nothing new or different from past diseases, either in kind or degree. Race-based reactions to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003 were just as…well, virulent. As medical anthropologist Laura Eichelberger put it about SARS, which also began in China (Hong Kong), such racist tropes “resurfaced to blame Chinese culture and people for [the] disease.”
Again, America’s and Europe’s histories of conflating race with a specific disease are both long and sordid:
- Irish immigrants were accused of causing cholera epidemics in the 1830s, when Irish immigrants were viewed with disdain (read: not quite “white” enough) by earlier and long-established European (read “white” enough) immigrants;
- In the 1940s, syphilis was characterized a “black disease,” and led to the horrific Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, which purposely, secretly, subjected thousands of black men to untreated syphilis for a full forty years;
- And, in Europe itself, Jews (whose “whiteness” has always been questionable, negotiable even) were widely blamed for causing the granddaddy of all pandemics, the Bubonic Plague, way back in the 14th century.
Trump’s “Chinese virus” verbiage therefore falls right in line with these (and countless more) instances of blaming “the other” for whatever ails white America.