Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has joined other critics of President Donald Trump in denouncing what she sees as racist language being used to “distract” the public. She is referring to Trump’s reference to the “Chinese virus.” The reference to the origin of the virus is fairly common and it is hard to see how such a reference “distracts” anyone from any aspect of the pandemic. China does appear to have failed to immediately notify the world of the virus or share accurate information in the early critical period. The response of China this week was to throw out reporters from leading media organizations for reporting on the origin and spread of the virus in China. Two Chinese experts referred to this as the “Wuhan virus” until they were pressured to take down their column. Now, it appears that others want all reference to the origins barred as an act of racism.
Clinton tweeted that “The president is turning to racist rhetoric to distract from his failures to take the coronavirus seriously early on, make tests widely available, and adequately prepare the country for a period of crisis. Don’t fall for it. Don’t let your friends and family fall for it.”
Fall for what, precisely? How would referring to the origin of the virus excuse any early failures?
Trump has defended the reference and made specific mention of the claim by a high-ranking official that the virus may have been a bio-weapon designed and released by the U.S. military — a preposterous allegation. Again, as China expels reporters and spreads this conspiracy theory, the origin of the virus is a matter of discussion. I personally do not use the term “Chinese virus” because that seems inaccurate and not based on the recognized scientific terminology. I also agree that it seems gratuitous and may increase the ridiculous and horrible attacks on Asians by unhinged individuals. However, the term was used by many scientists and experts in the early days. If “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” racist, how about the continued use of the “Spanish flu” which was always based on a misconception of the origin?
What I cannot see is how this controversy is part of, to paraphrase an earlier Clinton expression, a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to distract people from early failures. The respected Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly said that Trump was not responsible for the lack of testing kits or the delay. The Administration is holding daily pressers with the President with instructions, and increasingly tough measures, for preparation. That does not seem to fit with Clinton’s warning for people not to be lulled by Trump in failing to prepare.
What I do see is a raw politicalization of the crisis to suggest a racist conspiracy without acknowledging the extensive measures already enacted to combat the virus. There is no question that Trump offered reckless and inaccurate statements in the early days of the crisis, as noted even by some conservative sites. However, I am not sure what still can be done further or if enough was done fast enough. Fauci did not believe that there was a failure at the policy level, but the jury will be out until after this crisis and a full review is possible. However, this narrative seems more driven by politics.