This is the first installment in our Policy from the People series, in partnership with Win Without War. Each month, Policy from the People will feature thoughts on foreign policy challenges from activists at the leading edge of the progressive movement.
By Tobita Chow
Last week, Trump started using the term “Chinese virus” to describe the novel coronavirus. By identifying the pandemic with China and with Chinese people, he hopes to redirect the mounting anger around the impact of the crisis – away from his tremendous failure to prepare the country for the COVID-19 crisis. The White House is now “launching a communications plan across multiple federal agencies” to deflect all criticism of the Trump administration and scapegoat China even as Trump fails to recognize the virus as a critical threat to all of US society. Even here, though, the Trump White House is a latecomer, as right-wing media have been using this tactic to shield the President from blame for weeks.
Most criticism of Trump has centered on the individual racism he encourages: that Trump is racist, that he is happy to label COVID-19 the “China virus,” and that he is stoking racism against Chinese people and other Asians. As the COVID-19 crisis worsens, Trump will no doubt go to greater and greater extremes to shift the blame away from himself and onto China and Chinese people. We should be ready for the possibility of a severe re-escalation of the US-China trade war and a dangerous increase in US-China military tensions. Anti-Asian racism will continue to rise. This certainly matters to me as a person of Chinese descent, having witnessed and experienced incidents of harassment and assault against Asians.
But this is not just about individual racism. This is a moment of crisis in the political and social order stands to be remade. Two main forces contend to determine the course of the radical changes that follow: the right wing nationalist movement behind Trump, and the rising progressive movement. The contest between these two sides will be determined by which side can frame the crisis – and necessary solutions – in terms the public can best understand. And the most crucial question in framing the mounting impact of the crisis is: who is to blame?