Republicans’ Anti-Asian COVID Rhetoric Was A Deliberate Strategy
E Rosalie is an interdisciplinary scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a variety of interests: science policy, health security (public health + national security), and disinformation. She cultivates a range of experiences, and in the past year contributed to the HIT-COVID study published by Nature, volunteered on the Covid Tracking Project at The Atlantic, team-wrote a policy memo published in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance, and started a disinformation database called Hoaxlines via her science communication project, NOVEL SCIENCE.
Former President Trump first called coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” on March 16th, two months after it arrived and nearly six weeks after he was explicitly warned that the virus was spreading in the US, the travel restriction would fail, and we needed to act to prevent the situation we live in today.
Unable to hide his mistakes, he deflected the blame by intentionally renaming the virus. This came at the moment Americans learned the President left them vulnerable to a silently spreading disease that would change our lives forever.
I vividly remember writing The President Should Ditch the Term “Chinese Virus” But Not for the Reasons You Think, leaving out that the words were likely to incite violence. I knew people would dismiss my visceral fear and accuse me of “identity politics,” as if Asians had a choice.
We stayed silent while those who were safe accused us of being too sensitive.
I’ve feared for what happened in Atlanta this week (6 Asian women were targeted) for exactly a year, knowing that like the Latinos massacred in El Paso and the Jewish Americans in Pittsburgh, it would only be a matter of time before it happened to Asians too. The fears, we would learn, were not unfounded. Between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021, there were 3,800 anti-Asian incidents reported, and they didn’t happen in a vacuum. 68% of those reports were of women.
A political strategy guide, in the form of a 57-page memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, urged Republican candidates to deflect from the failures and missteps. This leaked in April of 2020. That was when I knew how this ended.
What the strategic communication guide neglects is that the “long history” its referencing is precisely why we no longer do it. We have done it in the past and the results were devastating. The guide was a textbook example of the social manipulation that Elizabeth Neumann had warned was sparking violence.
Elizabeth Neumann, the assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security for the Trump administration, lamented the struggle to get American leadership to recognize that by provoking fear as a political tactic, they were creating real danger.
When you see the El Paso attacker, his manifesto was citing language and rhetoric that comes from the president’s campaign rallies about an invasion from Mexico and how we’ve got to protect our country.
He uses rhetoric to scare people. This is a known psychological tactic that if you get people to fear, they tend to follow you to the solution of ‘How are we going to save ourselves?’
And his answer is, ‘It’s me. If you vote for me, I will save you.’ Well, for some people, the way that they think that they need to protect themselves, it’s more than just a vote for a president. It’s ‘let me go kill people.’
The violent consequences of the psychological manipulation were not limited to domestic issues. The erratic strategic decision-making that had become a hallmark of the Trump administration worried her as well.
I am really concerned that in a second term, he will not have the ability to make wise decisions because there are no officials surrounding him anymore that have the experience and the gravitas to be able to tell him, ‘No, you cannot do this, this is illegal.’ Or: ‘If you do this, it is likely that this other nation-state will respond in a drastic way that will lead us to war.’ That’s what’s at stake here….
…It’s his style. His style is chaos itself. And when you have chaos at the top of the federal government, that creates chaos throughout every other level of government. That means we cannot perform our security functions well.
— Elizabeth Neumann
When the President condemned the violence at protests over the summer in 2020, the former assistant secretary of counterterrorism left no room for misinterpretation. Whatever impression the media and political figures were giving, as far as the Department of Homeland Security was concerned, the objective reality was well-known:
If you look at the people that have been arrested for [violence and rioting at protests in the summer of 2020] that, by and large, I mean, it’s the boogaloo movement or it’s an association with QAnon. The threat of domestic terrorism is not from Antifa. It is from these right-wing movements.
Words have power. One cannot pretend prayer is an appropriate response to gun violence while arguing words have no power. One cannot argue words have no power while investing significant funding and time into strategic communications. If words have no power to influence how we act and feel, why spend any money on campaigning at all?
It’s difficult to put into words what it was like to find out that they had strategized how to deflect from mistakes, mistakes many scientists tried to prevent. What I hated most about it, is I knew it would work. I knew much of the public would respond as our leadership had hoped.
When one group chooses to do something that we know from history often ends up hurting people and the people choosing to take the risk aren’t a part of the group likely to be harmed, that is no accident. It was a calculated and intentional choice, after a full two months of referring to it as the coronavirus.
With full knowledge of the possible consequences, they sacrificed us.
Moments like these require unrelenting truthtelling. We take pride in being reader-funded. If you like our work, support our journalism.
The Timeline Of The Early Days Of Coronavirus
Mid-December patients appear with pneumonia. Whistleblowers say medical doctors suspected something by late Dec 2019.
Dec 27, 2019
A Wuhan doctor told China’s health authorities that a new coronavirus caused the disease they now saw in bigger numbers.
Dec 30, 2019
Two doctors in Wuhan, Li Wenliang, and Xie Linka, messaged friends: “warning of possible ‘SARS’ cases and urging people to stay away from the Huanan seafood market, where the patients had gone.”
Dec 31, 2019
Chinese officials reported atypical pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China to WHO’s Office in Beijing and an Incident Management Support Team formed the next day.
Jan 1, 2020
CDC alerts HHS chief Alex Azar to coronavirus threat. Azar swore in as the Secretary of Health and Human Services on January 29, 2018, after Trump selected him in late 2017.
WHO reports on social media a cluster of pneumonia cases — with no deaths — in Wuhan, Hubei province
WHO tweets “The cause has not yet been identified or confirmed. WHO is closely monitoring the situation and is in close contact with national authorities in China.”
Chinese scientists identified the causative agent as a novel coronavirus and submitted it to a journal. They publish to a journal.
Chinese scientists shared the genome with the world by Jan 10; Australia shared it with virologists worldwide. This information allows you to make tests.
“This posting is communicated by Edward C. Holmes, the University of Sydney on behalf of the consortium led by Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang, Fudan University, Shanghai”
Please feel free to download, share, use, and analyze this data…. If you have any other questions –then please also contact us directly.
Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang,
Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center & School of Public Health,
Fudan University, Shanghai, China.
China shared the genetic information with WHO; WHO shared it with the world.
Germany makes its testing protocol public. The US declines to use.
WHO tweets on Jan 14, that there was “no clear evidence” that Coronavirus could spread between people. The statement did not mean human-to-human spread wasn’t happening. A lack of evidence is not confirmation that something does not exist, and elected officials who consulted relevant experts would have been made aware of this distinction.
There was circumstantial evidence stacking up, so countries continued to prepare.
Public health leader Imperial College London published an article that provided evidence the outbreak hadn’t been controlled. Many agreed with Imperial College, me among them. The math said so. The report estimated 1,723 cases, assuming Jan 12 as the latest onset date, and included assumptions on traffic through the airport based on averages.
Azar briefs Trump on the virus’s potential severity. This is the likely date that the President first heard what the virus could do to the US.
International cases proved that China had not, and perhaps could not, contain this. These cases did not come from the market. The WHO reported these via the disease outbreak network (DON). The reports strongly suggested continued spread — I saw it even as a grad student.
I wrote the original article on Jan 18 and edited it to reflect the Korean and US cases on Jan 21.
They sequenced genomes in many countries and labs. The findings revealed critical information. The virus had likely jumped to humans between Sept and November. SARS also emerged in Nov 2002.
This finding meant we could not control the outbreak with travel restrictions alone. It had been around for too long. The proverbial cat was already out of the bag.
CDC Says 3 US Airports Will Begin Screening for Coronavirus
Chinese scientist Zhong Nanshan, MD, confirms human-to-human transmission. WHO experts conduct a field investigation of the outbreak.
The first US case found, after arriving back in the US on Jan 15.
WHO makes a public statement expressing that human-to-human transmission was likely happening in Wuhan.
The IHR Emergency Committee convened. The vote split on declaring a PHEIC, before convening again.
Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan and colleagues submitted a paper published in The Lancet confirming human-to-human transmission had and was happening.
Four senators, three Republicans, and one Democrat sold off investments after a classified briefing about Coronavirus.
“According to financial disclosure forms, Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) each sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks within days of the Senate holding a classified briefing on Jan. 24 with Trump administration officials on the threat of the coronavirus outbreak.”
— The Hill
Alex Azar tells reporters the virus “should not be an impact on their day-to-day life” adding that the administration was taking “aggressive action.”
CDC finished its testing design. Countries often design their own tests; however, it remains unclear why it took so long. Other countries had designed tests by Jan 13. For context, field researchers built a functional molecular virology lab from two storage containers and $40,000 in a remote area.
Congress announces a hearing on the subject: “The Wuhan Coronavirus: Assessing the Outbreak, the Response, and Regional Implications,” scheduled in one week on Feb 5.
The outbreak met the criteria for a PHEIC, and Dr. Tedros tweeted that day.
President announced travel restrictions for China, but the information we had since Jan 19th told us that wouldn’t stop it and we needed to act fast.
CDC sends out testing guidelines, and despite evidence of spread, testing barred non-travelers until Mar 4, 2020. Testing requirements: Patient with fever or symptoms of lower respiratory infection AND one of two:
1) Traveled to China in the last two weeks
2) Contact with a confirmed case
1 case in Jan = 400 in Feb -160,000 in Mar
The travel restriction placed by President Trump on Jan 31 starts at 5 PM.
The US Declares a public health emergency.
Congress holds a hearing and learns:
- Travel bans will not stop this [additional action on Mar 16]
- The evidence said the virus could already be spreading in the US [guidelines disallowed non-travelers from testing until Mar 4]
- Experts stated that current US policy could not keep Americans safe; it was too late for restrictions [many studies showed this]
Testimony from pandemic expert Dr. Nuzzo included [full document]
Testimony from the White House Ebola response coordinator.
“We have a travel Band-Aid right now. First, before it was imposed, 300,000 people came here from China in the previous month. So, the horse is out of the barn.”
— Ron Klain, the man President Biden would later name his Chief of Staff
Here is Trump, on February 7, telling Woodward that coronavirus was 5x more deadly than the flu & airborne.
Trump would go on to hold rallies throughout the entire month of February, called fears about the virus a hoax, and said COVID-19 was like the flu.pic.twitter.com/zwkM2aXJZ2
— Rantt Media (@RanttMedia) September 9, 2020
Deaths in China exceed those of SARS, something that should have woken anyone who doubted this was serious.
US politicians pulled investments out of the market. Politicians did not act, though it seemed likely enough to move their money. Officially, they say it’s a coincidence, and they had nothing to do with money being moved.
CDC says it’s preparing for a pandemic. Azar tells reporters the virus is “contained.”
This was a grim time. The media vilified public health for causing panic, but we did not see panic. Panic is when you lose control of your bladder. It’s when people cannot speak or move or behave in ways that make little sense.
This made sense. We saw a survival instinct. More than unwelcome news, uncertainty causes us stress and suffering. Forbes will tell you about it, here. People got mixed messages, and they tried to protect themselves.
The President stated the Coronavirus will “disappear” like a “miracle” at a press conference. In late February, he speculated that warm weather would kill the virus and stop the spread.
Harvard disagreed, warning SARS surged in summer. Select media outlets begin calling the outbreak a hoax. President Trump did the same at a rally:
President Trump today: “I never said the pandemic was a Hoax!”
President Trump on February 28: “Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus… And this is their new hoax… We have 15 people in this massive country… We could’ve had a lot more than that.“pic.twitter.com/1PEFKZl83G
— Rantt Media (@RanttMedia) April 25, 2020
A study showed tracing 70% of an infected patient’s contacts could control the outbreak in 3 months. No significant federal or state action occurred. What better solution could there be than to employ unemployed people while controlling the pandemic?
Many guides were quickly written for the state and national levels. Very few states seize upon the concrete solution.
FDA clears the first private lab testing after Azar blocked the inclusion of private labs.
FEMA takes over the HHS response to the crisis.
Mar 4 and 9
Testing expanded to non-travelers, but the number of cases has grown to exceed testing capacity. The community spread has spread like wildfire over the last 6 weeks.
President Trump says, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” As of March 18, 2021, we still have not had enough tests for every person, processed in a timely fashion. Not one day.
In a meeting with Republican senators at the U.S. Capitol, President Trump said:
“This was unexpected…And it hit the world. And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Some have said that this could never have been contained because Americans wouldn’t quarantine. This is conjecture. Had we established political consensus, it’s also likely wrong.
Full containment as an impossibility is not a valid objection as no single intervention could have controlled the outbreak—any method to control the spread, however, could have helped in a smaller way that could have prevented much of the death in the US.
Elected officials affected earlier by the outbreak examined the exports of PPE and became alarmed.
57 House Members ask POTUS to invoke the Defense Production Act to meet the PPE needs of our US healthcare providers.
“We write to urge you to use the powers afforded by the Defense Production Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. §§4501 et seq.) to begin the mass production of supplies needed to address the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic.
The need for supplies to properly address the pandemic is acute. According to the CDC, “manufacturers of select types of [personal protective equipment] are reporting increased volume of orders and challenges in meeting order demands… the CDC is “encouraging healthcare systems to implement strategies to conserve supplies.” We are extremely concerned that such “strategies” could force frontline health care workers to use protective equipment improperly, or go without it altogether.”
Comparisons of COVID-19 to the flu began circulating, confusing the public, and conflicting with experts. Good articles circulate, but the myth persists.
We had 100% susceptibility. A percentage of people have immunity to the flu every year and it spreads more slowly. Herd immunity appears when around 1/3 of the population has immunity to the seasonal flu. The qualities of the virus promised to spread with a fury that humanity had never seen. Two American Emergency Medical organizations have denounced misinformation spread by medical doctors.
The world holds 7.5 billion people. In 1918, cities were less dense with 1.8 billion people in the world. Now planes fill the sky and extensive global trade races about below. In every way, we became more vulnerable.
Contrary to popular ideas, seasonal flu and pandemic flu are not the same.
WHO states it is “deeply concerned” about the “alarming inaction.” The US restricts travel to more affected regions on Mar 11. Experts testified over two months earlier that travel restrictions would fail.
President enacted 15 days to slow the spread, and calls it the “Chinese Virus.”
Article: The President should ditch the term “Chinese virus,” but not for the reasons you think.
Trump tells Woodward he played down the threat of the coronavirus.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
He also tells Woodward that “plenty of young people” are vulnerable — different from his public message pic.twitter.com/fJZUZtJTIv
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) September 9, 2020
Also on March 19
A political strategy guide urging Republican candidates to deflect from the failures and missteps leaked.