President Trump is determined to rebrand the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” not only because it will allow him to divert the blame he deserves for hamstringing the United States’s response to the spread of the pandemic, but because it allows him to tap into the virulent racism and xenophobia that has formed the core of his political identity since he launched his 2016 election campaign by targeting Mexicans and Muslims.
The GOP has quickly fallen in line behind their ogre of a leader, with prominent Republican figures adopting the term “Chinese virus” even though “coronavirus” has already embedded itself deeply in the public psyche as the proper term. Such a transparent effort to capitalize on bigotry of course comes with devastating consequences for Asians of all nationalities as they are ignorantly shunned and blamed for something they had no hand in causing.
According to The Kansas City Star, a Republican official in the Sunflower State has now taken conservative Sinophobia to a new low. Marvin Rodriguez, the Chairman of the Riley County Commissioners, claimed that the coronavirus has not become a huge problem in his region yet because there are not a lot of Chinese residents there. His stunningly unscientific and blatantly racist remarks were paraphrased to the Star by Mayor Usha Reddi of Manhattan, Kansas.
“I’m paraphrasing, but he said we don’t have a problem here because Italy has a lot of Chinese people, and we don’t have that problem here,” said Reddi.
It should go without saying but must be noted that Asian-Americans are no more susceptible or immune to the coronavirus than anyone else. Just because the outbreak started in China and the communist government botched its early response in no way reflects on people of Chinese heritage. Anyone can spread it. Singling out specific racial demographics does nothing but sow division when we should be unifying to fight this virus.
The Star Editorial Board reached out to Rodriguez for an explanation for his comments.
“I didn’t necessarily say it like that,” he claimed. He tried to explain himself further. “Italy has a problem with its health department, first. It’s health for everybody. I have a friend in the Navy, and he said in that area [of Italy] there’s a garment industry and a lot of Chinese. If we were like Italy, we’d have it already.”
The Star pressed the Chairman to grapple with the risk he could be putting Asian-Americans in by engaging in such racially charged rhetoric.
“Well, they say it came out of China and I’m not putting it past the Chinese government in communist China,” said Rodriguez.
When asked if he was suggesting the Chinese government intentionally spread the virus abroad, Rodriguez gladly engaged in the kind of conspiratorial thinking one might expect from a loon like Alex Jones.
“Normally, this kind of thing spreads slowly. I put two and two together. I’ve been around a long time, girl,” said Rodriguez. He went on to state that his primary concern and the cause for his comments was that he wants to stop people from panicking.
It doesn’t matter how Rodriguez justifies his comments. They’d be inexcusable coming from any American, but when uttered by a party official they become far more sinister. He is endangering people by spreading this kind of thinking and racist attacks against Asians are already on the rise. Anything short of a full-throated apology and a sincere commitment to do better simply will not do.