As the country — and the world — hunkers down in the midst of a global pandemic that threatens to kill millions of people, the president and his allies have seized upon this public health crisis as an opportunity to inject some anti-Asian bigotry into the national discourse. For days now, President Trump and some top Republicans have insisted that the novel COVID-19 form of coronavirus be referred to as the "Chinese virus."
Asked why he insists on calling the disease the "Chinese virus" despite reports of multiple instances of anti-Asian harassment allegedly stemming from fears over the pandemic, Trump claimed Wednesday that it is "not racist at all" because the disease "comes from China."
He also said that Asian Americans weren't being put at risk by the term, because "they probably would agree with it 100%."
The insistence on linking the disease with China has even been defended by the official White House Twitter account:
The president's oldest son, meanwhile, accused the World Health Organization of cowing to China when it announced Wednesday that Chinese authorities had found no new human-to-human cases of coronavirus:
Top White House advisers Kellyanne Conway, meanwhile, tried to thread an impossibly small needle by calling an alleged instance of a White House staffer referring to the coronavirus as "Kung-Flu" to Chinese-American CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang "highly offensive" — while simultaneously casting doubt on whether the incident ever happened. She also dubiously claimed her own moral high ground because, as Conway put it, "I’m married to an Asian."
Republican Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), meanwhile, went straight to the coarsest form of jingoistic bigotry possible, saying it was okay to refer to the disease as the "Chinese virus" because "[Chinese] people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that."
It's worth noting that Cornyn was completely wrong when he said China was the source of MERS (the acronym stands for "Middle East respiratory syndrome") and the 2009 swine flu outbreak, which was first identified in Mexico. Then again, Cornyn is the same guy who drank Corona out of a rocks glass over the weekend to show his toughness against the growing pandemic, so maybe this is all to be expected.
In any case, despite Trump's protestations that referring to the disease as the "Chinese virus" is perfectly appropriate, reports have already begun linking the the president's xenophobic and racist phrasing with related acts of harassment against Asian people across the United States.
Harassment of Asians hasn't been limited to the internet, either:
In some instances, the anti-Asian bigotry has even turned overtly violent. Last week in New York City, an Asian woman walking in Midtown Manhattan was punched in the face at 9:30 in the morning, with the alleged assailant shouting: "Where is your corona mask, you Asian bitch?"
Writer Noah Cho has warned that "we are not far away from the first Asian person being killed in this country due to flames of fear being stoked against China and Chinese people." Reporter Kimmy Yam at NBC Asian America interviewed New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, who represents New York City's Chinatown and said she fears Trump is making people feel "justified" in their anti-Asian racism. Trump is "fueling the xenophobia," Niou said.
Of course, if the president and his cronies were really so keen on naming health threats from their country of origin, you'd think he'd have no problem calling every instance of international gun violence featuring a U.S. made firearm an "American shooting." Right?