I was shocked, dismayed but not surprised when President Trump called COVID-19 the “Chinese” virus. It is a well-used political tactic to place blame on a race or ethnic group for any problems that might arise — economic, political, health-related or otherwise.
I thought, here we go again. Instead of the last oldie but goodie the president invoked, “go back to where you came from,” he and some other Republican leaders attributed the coronavirus to a whole group of people. Their rationale being that the virus came from Chi-nah! (pronunciation and emphasis the president used in his press conference).
In American history the use of race- or ethnic-based terminology in a political crisis is not new. It has been a well-used tool in the political toolbox when a scapegoat is needed. Our president has repeatedly used this tried-and-true tactic.
So, as a media outlet showed that the president crossed out “corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” in his notes describing the virus that we were going to war with, the political stage was being set. If things don’t go well, as they didn’t in his mishandling of the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, he now has someone to blame. Someone or something he can redirect criticism toward if he needs a scapegoat if things go bad.
But in all fairness, I was equally shocked and this time surprised when President Trump in his March 23 evening presser called COVID-19 a “virus,” not a Chinese virus. He also said Asian Americans are an amazing people and the spread of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form.
After pushback from all corners of the community and society, the president altered his racist narrative with an enlightened statement of reconciliation. This is counter to his usual posture and actions, where by he never takes anything he says back and usually doubles down.
Maybe we have some clout on the political playing field. Maybe someone in the administration can talk the president off the political ledge that he repeatedly goes out on when it comes to immigration, race relations and international relations. Nah, to the latter.
Consistently in American history, three things can be assured if there is a political problem that needs to be addressed as it relates to Asians and this country:
One, the powers that be will not hesitate to use a group of people to blame problems on. In other words, use as a convenient scapegoat.
Two, when it comes to problems with an Asian country on the international scene. it affects and taints the relationship with Asians on the domestic scene. In other words, it affects Asian Americans.
Three, non-Asians in America can’t tell the difference between one Asian group and another (oftentimes, neither can I). So, they lump us all together. Consequently, if there is any anti-Asian sentiment in the air it doesn’t matter if it’s with mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and on and on — it affects all Asians.
Calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus and attributing it to a whole group of people is just like saying that the president is a racist and white. Does that mean all white people must be racist? Thank goodness the vast majority of people don’t subscribe to that kind of logic, but it’s equally unfortunate that the president of our country invoked such thinking, which gives tacit approval to acting out on such ugly thoughts.
But in one of the last worldwide crises, the Great Depression, the Republican incumbent president at the time mishandled and woefully underestimated the impact of the situation. He, President Herbert Hoover, was voted out of office and the newly elected Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took the bull by the horns and resolved the issues at hand. Just saying.
Also, relative to President Roosevelt, when confronted by the crisis of WWII he relied on said scapegoat tactics to incarcerate Japanese Americans in concentration camps. The result of using the similar race- and ethnic-based rhetoric that the Trump Administration has used.
So, is it a Republican or Democratic tactic? Unfortunately, it’s American as apple pie. But there is a fourth assured response during a crisis in America. Good folks, the overwhelming majority of Americans, will stand up for what’s right, fair and just.
Maybe we’re flattening the curve not only on the coronavirus but racism as well.
Warren Furutani is a former member of the State Assembly and served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education and Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.