Trump’s misnaming of the coronavirus continues long tradition of using xenophobia to confront infectious diseases: op-ed
President Donald J. Trump and President Mike Pence, official White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

While speaking during his Oval Office address regarding the U.S. response to the coronavirus this Wednesday, President Trump said the outbreak was being caused by a "foreign virus" -- a term that was likely inspired by his isolationist chief speechwriter and immigration hawk, Stephen Miller, according to The Atlantic's Ben Zimmer.


Zimmer wasn't the only to catch the isolationist tone of Trump's remarks. CNN’s Jim Acosta said Trump's words are likely to "come across to a lot of Americans as smacking of xenophobia to use that kind of term in this speech.”

"When it comes to the popular naming of infectious diseases, xenophobia has long played a prominent role," Zimmer writes. "Susan Sontag, in her 1988 work, AIDS and Its Metaphors (a follow-up to her extended essay from a decade earlier, Illness as Metaphor), observed that 'there is a link between imagining disease and imagining foreignness. It lies perhaps in the very concept of wrong, which is archaically identical with the non-us, the alien.'"

A similar patter emerged during the influenza pandemics during the early 20th century. In modern times, health officials try to be more neutral when naming diseases by avoiding geographical references -- a practice that the World Health Organization embraced with their set of best practices for naming infectious diseases that they released in 2015.

"But when Trump, with the help of Miller, calls it a 'foreign virus,' the calculus is much simpler: 'foreign' = 'bad,'" Zimmer writes.

Read his full op-ed over at The Atlantic.