As President Trump has changed his tune on the coronavirus — going from believing it was a Democratic hoax to encouraging Americans to take it seriously —one thing has not changed: his insistences of calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” and more recently the "Kung-Flu." While reporters continue to challenge him on his use of the term, Trump and his allies continue to defend it.
At a press conference on Wednesday, reporters asked Trump why he keeps calling coronavirus by the name “Chinese virus” and whether he believed the use of the term was racist. “Because it comes from China,” Trump said. “It’s not racist at all. Not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. I want to be accurate.”
CBS News White House Correspondent Weijia Jiang tweeted on Tuesday that a White House official referred to the virus as “Kung-Flu” to her face; Trump was also asked about this at Wednesday’s press conference, and whether derogatory terms like that negatively affect Asian-Americans. Again, he defended it, saying, “No, not at all. Not at all. I think they probably would agree with it 100 percent. It comes from China. There’s nothing not to agree.”
The President is not the only person in his camp who is using inaccurate and stereotyping language to refer to coronavirus. Others, like Rep. Paul Gosar are calling it “Wuhan virus,” after the city in China where the virus first appeared. Even the head of the CDC has said that it’s wrong to label the virus “Chinese,” while the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) have released guidelines for reporting on coronavirus that include using accurate language.
“The World Health Organization issued guidelines in 2015 discouraging the use of geographic locations when naming illnesses because it could stigmatize the people living there,” the AAJA writes. The WHO even tweeted about reducing social stigma by using the correct language when referring to the virus.
The use of these terms, which Trump is insisting on using for “accuracy,” draw on a long history of Americans blaming immigrants and “others” for disease. But more than that, it’s really just demonstrative of Trump’s approach to governing and a lack of accountability for spreading an already-rising tendency to turn this pandemic into a race war. But, Trump’s general response to the virus has been less than great. On Wednesday he tweeted that he had “always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning.”
“China is a regular punching bag for a president who lays blame for all sorts of global ills at China’s door,” writes Daniel King at Mother Jones. “He has already sparked a trade war with China, plunging any semblance of bilateralism to historic lows. Countless Republicans seem to see the coronavirus — uh, Wuhan Virus — as another Team Trump layup that they’re not gonna miss.”