As published in the Immigration Daily on Match 20, 2020
The US has had a long history of racism against Chinese, beginning with the 1871 Chinese massacre in Los Angeles, 1882 Chinese exclusion laws, 1921 and 1924 immigration laws establishing a national origins formula to further exclude Asians and others, yellow peril stories beginning in the early 1900s epitomized by the Fu Manchu character in the 1930s, and jingoistic mistrust of Chinese during the Cold War and now under a Trump administration at war with the Chinese over trade and which nation will lead in the 21st century.
Against this background, Mr. Trump is aggressively inflaming Americans against persons of East Asian origin in the country by repeatedly calling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” while another in his administration just referred to it as the “Kung flu.” Inflammation appears to be working even in a city as diverse and ethnically tolerant as New York as seen even in this law firm’s anecdotal experience of one of our Chinese-American staff member’s two incidents within the past week, one that she witnessed of a man on the New York subway threatening Asians wearing face masks when one coughed, and the other this morning of another man cursing her when she lightly coughed (right outside Penn Station) with her mask on.
This constant emphasis on blaming the Chinese has escalated tensions across the country and highlighted Asian businesses to such a negative degree that business owners have faced colossal losses even though just about all Chinese-American citizens, permanent residents originating from China, and visitors from China are virus free due to the China travel ban, and the riskiest populations are from Europe and the Middle East with Italy and Iran leading in current contagious spread. In New York City, much of the infection was spread by a Jewish attorney from New Rochelle.
While saying the term once or twice serves as a denial to the China made rumor that the new coronavirus was brought to China by the US military (obviously someone in China read about the origins of the Spanish flu of 1918), the world at large is already cognizant of its origins. Yet Mr. Trump is using a megaphone consistently to assign blame to a known fact.
To what end the blame? The answer is diversion from the horrible job that the president has done from the very beginning to contain the virus. From abolishing the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health and Security and Bio Defense to believing that he could “wall” off the coronavirus to saying that it was a “hoax” and not taking it seriously to not having a plan in place and failing miserably to listen to public health experts and coordinate government response early in the crisis, his handling of the situation has been haphazard and dumbfounding. While Hong Kong and Singapore have solved the coronaviruses in their countries through huge amounts of testing and contact tracing, the US has fallen so far behind that it appears the only viable strategy is social distancing and lockdowns.
Mr. Trump is clearly not an advocate of Harry Truman’s famous desk sign, “The Buck Stops Here,” but an advocate of buckpassing. Repeated and continual use of the “Chinese virus” term is an attempt to deflect blame. Yet we do not need a president in this crisis to throw off blame and in so doing put the lives and property of Asians in this country at peril, but a president who accepts the blame without caring whether he is reelected or not, and moves the country forward to solve the predicament.