This Rhetoric is Tired, Mr. President

“We are not happy with China. We are not happy with that whole situation because we believe it could have been stopped at the source, it could have been stopped quickly, and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world. And we think that should have happened.”
– President Donald Trump, speaking from the Rose Garden on April 27, 2020

As the number of positive Covid19 cases in the United States creeps to 17 million infected people, President Trump continues to blame China rather than take responsibility for his administrations lack of action. The United States saw its first confirmed case of corona virus in early February of 2020, but in the ten months since, the mysterious virus has manged to kill almost 300,000 Americans. Despite early praise of Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Trump’s attitude shifted into malice as he began to repeatedly, publicly lay blame on China for the spread of Covid19. In fact, the President has gone to great lengths to brand Covid19 as the “Chinese virus“.

This rhetoric is not surprising for two reasons. First, there is a historic tendency to use immigrants, foreigners, and other marginalized groups as scapegoats for epidemics. Second, Trump also has a historic tendency of blaming issues like violence, a rampant drug problem, and a failing economy on marginalized groups. In fact, President Trump basically built his first campaign for presidency on harmful rhetoric toward Mexican immigrants. So, although his attacks on China are baseless (China has done well to contain the spread of corona virus), they do fall in line with his established pattern of behavior.

However, I have to believe that Trumps rampant disregard of the facts is fueled by a desire to direct attention away from his own administrations negligence. President Trump’s language is intentional: by referring to Covid19 as the “Chinese virus” he hopes to associate a foreign, or otherized, group with the disease. Doing so easily shifts blame from the many instances of inaction that his administration has displayed since the very beginning of the pandemic. Although this tactic has managed to quell his supporters, a quick look at the facts makes it clear that the uncontained spread of Covid in the United States has more to do with our own leadership and their disregard for science and medical advice. If you want a more definitive and detailed timeline of the Trump administrations response, or lack thereof, to Covid this website provides a nice overview.

It seems important to highlight just why this is important. The language the President uses to blame and alienate certain group has a direct effect on the way those groups are treated. In fact, the FBI has reported a steady increase in hate crimes against Hispanic/Latino and African-American people from 2016 to 2018. When we allow the President to continue using this type of language to describe marginalized groups we are failing to help the actual people who are facing consequences, like hate crimes, as a result of Trump’s harmful rhetoric. In an article by National Geographic titled “America’s long history of scapegoating its Asian citizens”, Nina Strochlic says “Historians and activists fear that today’s targeted political rhetoric and harassment mirrors moments in U.S. history when racism became state-sanctioned”.

It can be tempting to dismiss the Presidents uninspired rhetoric as harmless, but in reality it has concrete effects on the groups he targets. President Trump continues to dehumanize certain groups because it has, thus far, been an effective way of uniting his die hard supporters. In an era where information is readily available to us in so many forms we should be wary of conspiratorial claims and inflammatory rhetoric. Finally, we must recognize that this type of behavior from our head of state is actually a tool being used to incite violence against marginalized groups while misdirecting attention away from his own shortcomings.

By: Danielle Flores

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