President Trump has irregularly but repeatedly termed the novel coronavirus the “China Virus”. It’s a purely political move, an effort to consolidate anger against the virus’ country of origin. It is an effort which has been fairly successful, as indicated in places like the San Jose Mercury News with their story “Hundreds of anti-Asian American hate incidents reported in California during pandemic“. Unfortunately for the President and his supporters, the label and demonization haven’t worked as well as they’d like. The number of people who blame China for the American deaths remains comparatively small.
The rationale for the attack is simple: if the virus hadn’t originated in China, nobody would have died from it. The “China Virus” phrase isn’t meant to indicate that all people of Chinese origin are somehow involved in transmitting it into the United States. But in an atmosphere where blame shifting and hatred are encouraged and conspiracy theory has been elevated to a higher level than verifiable truth, the predictable result has been an opportunity for racism to spread.
This is the exact problem the Trump administration has had with racism throughout its existence. Even aside from the incidents of actual racist language and actions (and there have been several, particularly from prominent administration allies), Trump has consistently taken positions which allow racism to flourish, and they have subsequently turned a blind eye to any negative results.
This is the same issue many of them claimed to have with Obama. There, they regularly identified any positions which demonstrated racial bias (I quickly lost count of how often Obama’s denigration of his grandmother as a “typical white woman” because of her own racist tendencies was mentioned by Republican pundits.) The sending of administration members to funerals of black men accused of being victims of police abuse, whether or not the police had acted improperly, was also regularly called out. These tactics were recognized for eight years. His supporters can lay no believable claim to failing to see them when they are being used in a more open and hamfisted way.
If any of them truly had any issue with racism, they would have walked away from Trump. Those who did not didn’t care about the issue, they cared only that they were not benefiting.
Anti-Trump people have taken to calling it the “Trump Virus”, with Nancy Pelosi demonstrating herself to be among the earliest in Congress to recognize the value of the term. Realizing that Trump’s supporters have been trying to shift the blame for the virus away from the President, his opponents are attempting to keep that from happening.
This is, on the surface, a far more accurate description of the situation. The deaths in America would have been minimal had we faced the virus competently. We still would have seen thousands dead – the original belief that the virus spread only through contact and direct droplets and not aerosols allowed it to pass to people who might otherwise have been safe, and rendered the otherwise reasonable decision to use medically equipped retirement communities as hospital overflow into a catastrophe. But with proper equipment available and people taking precautions to minimize infection, the disease can be contained.
The United States, with a consolidated front and not a politically divided one where people were insanely encouraged not to wear masks but instead stick hair dryers up their noses, could have saved the lives of more than 125,000 of its citizens.
“Trump virus” does not lead to racism. It could be extended to incite division, particularly if people incorrectly broaden the attack into “Trumper” or “Trumpist” virus, but that would be a stupid decision. The value in the term lies in isolating Trump as the sole offender and reducing his viability as a candidate.
Still, it’s not the Trump virus. Not really. That case might be argued if Trump were the only person failing on the world stage, but he’s not. Tens of thousands of dead can be found in Brazil, in Mexico, in Sweden, in India, and likely (if we had accurate medical data) in Russia.
It’s also not the TrumpBolsonaroAMLOLofvenModiPutin virus.
The novel coronavirus which causes covid-19 is, quite simply, a test virus. It has provided each country a test of its leadership and its citizenry. In some places, like those listed above, both have failed. In some, like China, the leadership failed but the citizenry acted responsibly. In others, like New Zealand, the leadership acted responsibly and the citizens didn’t have much leeway to fail.
Trump is one of the handful of world leaders to have been utterly beaten by this challenge. This is why his supporters hate the notion of the “Trump virus”, because it highlights his ineptitude. For anyone wishing to be accurate, it is a foolish term. For those who wish to successfully attack a wounded enemy during a political season, I strongly encourage its use.
But the reality is that it’s not merely Trump who has failed this open book test with no time limit. It’s every international leader who refused to initiate precautions which were known to be effective, and every person who lined up behind them whether out of party loyalty or a refusal to be inconvenienced.