By Jeet Heer* – The Nation
Trump is ramping up hatred of foreigners during a crisis that requires international cooperation
Bigotry has always served Donald Trump well. Racism played no small part in his ascension to the White House. It is not surprising that at stressful moments Trump returns to racism and xenophobia, the wellsprings of his political strength. In a national address on Wednesday night, Trump described the coronavirus as “a foreign virus.” The president reiterated his commitment to solving this problem primarily through border control. He announced new restrictions on travel from many European countries and suggested that Europe itself had been laggard in not restricting visitors from China.
“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots,” Trump argued. “As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.” Simply as a matter of fact, it’s unclear that this is true. The coronavirus, which has been active on both coasts, most likely came to the United States from multiple locations in Europe and Asia.
As my colleague Elie Mystal observes, the clear intent was to give Trump supporters a scapegoat they could blame the crisis on. Mystal notes that “Trump doesn’t want his Republican acolytes to think we’re fighting a virus; he wants them to think we’re fighting the people—the foreign people—who have a virus.”
Trump’s “blame China” rhetoric was relatively muted compared to the some of the Yellow Peril scaremongering that is now commonplace on the right. On Thursday, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said, “We will emerge stronger from this challenge, we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world.” A Twitter commentator explicated these words as meaning “China will pay for this.” Cotton affirmed that interpretation. Last month, Cotton suggested, without evidence, that the coronavirus might have been created in a Chinese “superlaboratory,”
Cotton was echoing a virulent conspiracy theory that many right-wingers are carelessly spreading. In late February, the American Enterprise Institute, the most influential foreign policy think tank on the right, tweeted out, “Was coronavirus a bioweapon? We don’t know, but history shows we can’t trust China.”
Sometimes the anti-Chinese bigotry is petty and childish. Other right-wing outlets have taken to referring to the coronavirus as “Kung Flu.” Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, retweeted someone who wrote, “Suddenly people are ‘racist’ because they won’t eat at a Chinese restaurant? I will not be eating at a Chinese restaurant simply because common sense tells me not to.”
The Republican exploitation of xenophobia serves many political ends. Beyond deflecting blame from Trump’s bungled handling of the coronavirus crisis, it also bolsters the key political theme of Trumpism, the “America first” agenda that combines protectionism, a unilateralist foreign policy, and hostility towards immigrants. The coronavirus, in other words, is the globalist monster that Trump was elected to slay.
The problem with this approach is not only that the racism is morally repugnant but also that the coronavirus crisis requires international cooperation. Nationalism is the exactly wrong approach to take to a global pandemic, where the solution requires a worldwide pooling of medical resources.
Trump’s border control approach to stopping the spread of the coronavirus has already failed. Thomas Bossert, who served as homeland security adviser to Trump, tweeted, “There’s little value to European travel restrictions. Poor use of time & energy. Earlier, yes. Now, travel restrictions/screening are less useful. We have nearly as much disease here in the US as the countries in Europe.”
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law School, made a similar point in an interview with Vox. “There’s a fine line between the president’s pro-US, anti-internationalist position where he thinks that he can restrict his borders on things like trade or immigration,” Gostin noted. “That doesn’t work with a germ—particularly with a germ that’s already here.”
Immigration restriction, at best, slowed down the arrival of the coronavirus in America. But now that the virus is here, the United States needs to work on mitigation, which means relying on medical equipment that can only come from Europe and China.
As Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy notes, “There is a shortage of the Coronavirus testing reagent. 2. Much of the reagent supply comes from Europe. 3. Pissing off Europe by not giving them prior notice of the travel ban was totally unnecessary.”
Maintaining good relations with China is even more important. Anti-Chinese polemicists have often complained that the United States has offshored its productive capacity to China. That’s true, and perhaps a problem to solve in the future. But in the near term, when mitigating the coronavirus is paramount, the United States has to rely on China to provide the ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment that are urgently needed.
The bungling of the Chinese government has played a major role in creating this global crisis. But China is making use of its unmatched productive capacity to win diplomatic points. According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the Chinese government has agreed to sell 1,000 ventilators and 2 million masks to Italy. China is also sending as a donation thousands of respirators, protective suits, and test kits.
It’s easy to view the Chinese actions as a cynical exercise in damage control. But whatever motives the Chinese government has, this kind of international cooperation is key to solving the coronavirus crisis.
In remarks on Thursday, Joe Biden rightly emphasized the importance of working with other nations. “We should be leading a coordinated, global response, just as we did to the Ebola crisis, that draws on the incredible capability of the US Agency for International Development and our State Department, to assist vulnerable nations in detecting and treating the coronavirus wherever it spreads,” Biden argued. “We should be investing in rebuilding and strengthening the global health security agenda, which we launched during our administration, specifically to mobilize the world against the threats of new infectious diseases.”
The historian Mike Davis, coming from a political position much more radical than Biden’s, also underscored the need for a global response. Writing in Links, Davis argued that “capitalist globalization now appears to be biologically unsustainable in the absence of a truly international public health infrastructure.”
Davis neatly summed up Trump’s xenophobic response to the crisis: “Walls not vaccines: could there be a more evil template for the future?”
*Jeet Heer is a national affairs correspondent at The Nation and the author of In Love with Art: Francoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman (2013) and Sweet Lechery: Reviews, Essays and Profiles (2014).
Trump’s rhetoric will make the pandemic worse. Words are now a matter of life and death
H Holden Thorp* – The Guardian
Trump used to flirt with anti-vaxxers. Now he is demanding a coronavirus vaccine
“Do me a favor, speed it up, speed it up.” This is what Donald Trump told the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, recounting what he said to pharmaceutical executives about the progress toward a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (Sars-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Anthony Fauci, the longtime leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been telling the president repeatedly that developing the vaccine will take at least a year and a half – the same message conveyed by pharmaceutical executives. Apparently, Trump thought that simply repeating his request would change the outcome.
China has rightfully taken criticism for squelching attempts by scientists to report information during the outbreak. Now, the United States government is doing similar things. Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they must clear all public comments with Mike Pence, the vice-president, is unacceptable. This is not a time for someone who denies evolution, the climate crisis and the dangers of smoking to shape the public message. Thank goodness Fauci, Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and their colleagues across federal agencies are willing to soldier on and are gradually getting the message out.
While scientists are trying to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said – as it did last week – that virus spread in the United States is contained, when it is clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After three years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.
And although the steps required to produce a vaccine could possibly be made more efficient, many of them depend on biological and chemical processes that are essential. So the president might just as well have said, “Do me a favor, hurry up that warp drive.”
I don’t expect politicians to know Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism or the Diels-Alder chemical reaction (although I can dream). But you can’t insult science when you don’t like it and then suddenly insist on something that science can’t give on demand. For the past four years, Trump’s budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for science of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy – all to support political goals – the nation has had nearly four years of harming and ignoring science.
Now, the president suddenly needs science. But the centuries spent elucidating fundamental principles that govern the natural world – evolution, gravity, quantum mechanics – involved laying the groundwork for knowing what we can and cannot do. The ways that scientists accumulate and analyze evidence, apply inductive reasoning and subject findings to scrutiny by peers have been proven over the years to give rise to robust knowledge. These processes are being applied to the Covid-19 crisis through international collaboration at breakneck, unprecedented speed; Science published two new papers earlier this month on Sars-CoV-2, and more are on the way. But the same concepts that are used to describe nature are used to create new tools. So, asking for a vaccine and distorting the science at the same time are shockingly dissonant.
A vaccine has to have a fundamental scientific basis. It has to be manufacturable. It has to be safe. This could take a year and a half – or much longer. Pharmaceutical executives have every incentive to get there quickly – they will be selling the vaccine after all – but thankfully, they also know that you can’t break the laws of nature to get there.
But do us a favor, Mr President. If you want something, start treating science and its principles with respect.
*H Holden Thorp is the editor in chief of Science