In early March, an angry, longtime Republican source contacted me to vent. He was a dedicated conservative, but was furious not only Trump Administration’s bumbling in dealing with COVID-19, but also the endless lies told by his fellow GOPers to persuade the party faithful that the scientific warnings about the outbreak were a scam.
Now, he fumed, as the infection rate and death toll rose, his colleagues realized they could not maintain the “COVID-19 is a fictional thing being used to hurt Trump” charade. Rather than backing off and consulting with scientists, their decision of what to do was horrific: Reach out to a political consultant to find a spin that would allow them to attack Democrats and the media, distracting everyone from Trump’s abject failure to protect the country.
The consultant came up with an answer: Change the name of the virus. Don’t say “coronavirus” or it’s real designation, SARS-CoV-2. Instead, call it “the China Virus” or “the Chinese Virus.”
The President would say “Chinese Virus” or “China Virus.” So would GOP members of Congress. And Fox News. And conservative talk radio. It would be repeated again and again until it was drilled in the heads of the base that might be wondering whether Trump really had messed up everything.
I didn’t understand how that would change much, but my source told me the plan was much more diabolical. Even though the name was wrong and stupid – like calling other viruses “Netherlands Virus” or “Britain Virus” – the consultant, who my source refused to name, predicted that Democrats and the media would respond to the name by proclaiming “racism.” (Which, of course, it was.)
Still, I didn’t get it. Why would that help?
Because then, my source said, Republicans could attack Democrats the media with outrage and self-righteousness. They would never to admit the name they were using was false. Instead, when the “yellow peril” racism of “Chinese Virus” was called out, the plot was for Republicans to win. Democrats were playing the racism card! Democrats refuse to even call the virus it’s true name because of their left-wing nuttiness! They don’t care about a crisis, all they care about is politicizing everything!
I found the whole idea amusing. That couldn’t possibly work, I said. First, who calls a disease the name of its virus? No one says Rubeola virus instead of measles. And everybody knows the name of the disease – COVID-19. And while most people don’t know the real name of SARS-CoV-2, everybody has heard the partially accurate “coronavirus.”
‘Just Want to Be Accurate’
My source told me I was naive. The President would say “Chinese Virus” or “China Virus.” So would GOP members of Congress. And Fox News. And conservative talk radio. It would be repeated again and again until it was drilled in the heads of the base that might be wondering whether Trump really had messed up everything. And whenever anyone called it racist or challenged its use, the Republicans would just say “We just want to be accurate,” or “We’re not going to avoid its real name just because Democrats are absurdly sensitive.”
The consultant’s plan was to push the base away from possibly getting angry at Trump, and instead push them to focus their rage against Democrats and the media.
But doing that would damage everything even more, I replied. The Chinese have the most scientific information about COVID-19. They have had success in attacking the spread. They are helping every country affected by the pandemic – with information, science and resources. Why would the GOP risk angering the Chinese just for political spin?
Like a Cornered Dog
That, my source said, was why he was so angry. His colleagues were behaving like a cornered dog, and lashing out without thinking. They had spent so much time denying science that now all they could think about was politics.
My skepticism lasted for a day until the Tucker Carlson show on Fox. Out of nowhere, Carlson used the words “China Virus.” I saw what was coming, and went on my twitter feed to warn my followers – which included many members of the media – of everything I had been told. “Chinese Virus” and “China Virus” was coming. I explained why. I explained, if no one reacted with anything but shaming GOPrs for not even knowing the name of the disease or the virus, this political scam would probably end quickly.
Bogus Term Spreads
A day or so later, I heard a member of Congress use “Chinese Virus.” Then another one. And another one. And another Fox News commentator. The use of the bogus term was spreading, well, like a virus. Finally, with the groundwork laid, the term came out of Trump’s mouth.
Everything played out exactly how the GOP political consultant predicted. Democrats – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – called out the racism of the words. Republican politicians – including Senator John Cornyn – shot back with the “They’re playing the racism card! Democrats are politicizing a health crisis.”
Trump used it again and again. Reporters pressed – why are they saying that? Isn’t that racist? Trump and his acolytes – including Kellyanne Conway – replied just as expected: They are just being precise and using the accurate name.
And it was working. On my twitter feed, some of my followers told me that their parents – avid Fox News addicts – had started ranting about Democrats and their refusal to call the virus its real name of “Chinese Virus.”
As I watched this language spread, knowing the GOP was engaging in PR spin to tear the country further apart during a health crisis, was willing to damage our scientists key relationship with the Chinese, was willing to make this outbreak worse simply to “own the libs.”
And then I knew my source was right. The GOP was engaged in something evil, was damaging out country, to likely increase the deaths we suffer by cutting off cooperation from the Chinese.
And all for a scheme to distract from their failures that are already killing us.