Donald Trump has decided that the best way to distract from his administration’s utter bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic response is to rebrand the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” The reason is obvious: he wants Americans to associate the rising death toll with the Chinese Communist Party instead of the White House despite the fact that both entities bear substantial culpability for the worsening crisis.
"We continue our relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus" — Trump again begins today's coronavirus news conference with some casual racism pic.twitter.com/Xgcmiq38Ur
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 19, 2020
Calling it the “Chinese virus” also has the added benefit of appealing to the president’s pathologically xenophobic and racist supporters. Exploiting racial animus helped him win in 2016 and now he clearly thinks it can help him dig himself out of the public relations nightmare that he’s created for himself by failing to display the base competency needed to successfully navigate this outbreak.
While calling it the “Chinese virus” might not be racist in a vacuum (in the same way that Spanish Flu is a largely benign moniker), there is undeniably a racist element when it comes from a man with such a long track record of racism. The public had already internalized calling it “coronavirus,” Trump’s sudden pivot to another name gives his whole game away.
On top of that, saying “Chinese virus” gives the Republican Party another culture war issue to exploit to cover up their own shortcomings. The phrase “Chinese virus” comes from a desire to capitalize on conservative bigotry, but the GOP has plausible deniability. Republicans are self-righteously claiming that liberals are overreacting by pointing out the racist dog whistle nature of the neologism. It’s a widespread gaslighting operation that helps drag attention away from Trump’s mistakes. First, they employ racism, then they pretend that anyone who points it out is oversensitive and hysterical.
Now, a photograph of Trump’s notes from today’s White House press conference has emerged and it shows how deliberate Trump’s virus rebranding is. The word “Corona” was scratched out in marker and replaced with the word “Chinese.”
It would appear that not only is Trump determined to exploit racism to politically weather this pandemic, but he’s so scatterbrained that he doesn’t trust himself to remember something as simple as the word “Chinese.” Daily, we are confronted by the reality that our president is uniquely unfit for office.
Close up of President @realDonaldTrump notes is seen where he crossed out "Corona" and replaced it with "Chinese" Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force today at the White House. #trump #trumpnotes pic.twitter.com/kVw9yrPPeJ
— Jabin Botsford (@jabinbotsford) March 19, 2020
Twitter’s response was merciless.
He’ll do anything to keep his racist base fed & activated. pic.twitter.com/lu81Em1u56
— JerriLynn (@Jerri_Lynn25) March 19, 2020
I'm not an emotional person but I watched Trump's horrific performance at today's briefing with tears in my eyes. That this man is president is a bigger national emergency than the virus.
— John L.T. (@JohnLT12) March 19, 2020
look at the size of that text, you could read it from outer space
— Quillbo Baggins (@bbt104) March 19, 2020
— WaterBluSky (@MsMariaT) March 19, 2020
He doesn't have his rallies so he has to keep the base engaged – he does this by saying "China" virus and not Corona. Whether its Muslims, WALL, Caravan, now this – dog whistles for his base to keep them focused and energized.
— Bob L (@BobbyL_AZ) March 19, 2020
They didn't teach Upper Case and Lower Case letters at Trump University.
— Trumpy Trumpy (parody) (@outofcontroljb) March 19, 2020
— WaterBluSky (@MsMariaT) March 19, 2020
Words matter!@hrw found COVID19 motivated anti-Asian hate crimes including physical attacks & beatings, violent bullying in schools, angry threats & discrimination in workplaces.
Instead of warning against that, our president is stoking those fireshttps://t.co/YVujtDgQJF
— Akshaya Kumar (@AkshayaSays) March 19, 2020
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Rob Haffey is a writer, filmmaker, and winner of the ScreenCraft Writing Fellowship. He is a graduate of Drexel University.