You say Covid and I say Corona
As the world grapples with the 2020 pandemic, the death toll rises, economies reel, and healthcare systems and selfless providers frantically work 24–7 to contain the virus and save lives, we’re also confronted with a critical question:
What to call this scourge?
Naming matters. It can shape attitudes, destiny and history. Consider the legacy of the eminent Dr. Ben Dover, who had little choice but to found modern colorectal examinations, or that of his celebrated “Yoga Queen” sister, Eileen Dover. Also regard “The Honorable Congressman Anthony Weiner,” a name that packs in more hilarious rejoinders than we have time for here.
But to be deadly serious, it’s also important during this coronacrisis, or any crisis, to focus on the crisis and avoid needless needling that while deliciously righteous, harms more than it helps.
Which brings us to the so-called “Wuhan/Chinese” virus.
At the recent (virtual social distancing) G-7 Summit, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blew up efforts by our allies to issue a joint statement about the global pandemic because he went to the mat insisting on calling it the “Wuhan Virus.”
As America’s top diplomat (see Merriam-Webster for the definition of “diplomat”) Pompeo demanded that the G-7 attack the communist Chinese government for its utter mishandling of the pandemic, which nobody doubts it deserves.
Yet our allies thought “Wuhan Virus” was an indulgent cheap shot, sending the 11 million people of the Hubei province city, where the virus apparently originated, forever into hateful infamy. Oddly, our global besties failed to share America’s belief that blaming sick and dying people helps.
Fortunately, Pompeo spoke for smarter Americans who have never been to China, or know little about China, but have their beliefs confirmed by their favorite cable and social media that the 2020 pandemic was caused by awful Chinese who immorally enjoy eating bats and rats when dogs and cats are not available.
Just look at the awful pictures circulating on social media not meant to further fire our preconceived beliefs! We need to be truthy about the terrible Chinese!
We also have the “Edit Of Prepared Remarks Heard ‘Round the World.”
Aka, “President” Trump’s Sharpie replacement of “Corona” virus with “Chinese” virus in his March 19 statement, which gave every American the comfort we need in this national crisis that our leader is bigly in command.
Trump’s edit was an even biglier cheap shot than Pompeo’s, this time smearing 1.3 billion people so future American school children can learn how the Chinese are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad enemy people.
The Chinese are already victims of their authoritarian government; why not pile on?
By calling it the Chinese virus, Trump is gleefully sneering at “widely-accepted public health authority guidelines that warn against naming disease outbreaks after nations or regions of the world, due to the unfounded stigmatization such names can cause,” as the fact-checking Snopes.com put it.
Of course, folks have gone crazy on social media, as if delirious from Covid Fever or more likely, Cabin Fever, but also normal Trump Fever.
The Trump right righteously attacked the horrible anti-American language-policing liberal mainstream media for its unmitigated gall to question our brilliant wartime president’s decision to pander to nativism, nationalism, xenophobia and negativism about people who aren’t American or sufficiently so.
A Republican Facebook friend hilariously posted, in effect, “so now you can’t say anything is ‘Chinese’ anymore? What about Chinese food? LOL!”
As always, the Trump-deranged/anti-American liberal Democrat socialist left sputters in indignation and attempts to counter nonsense with objective facts, even knowing it’s the proverbial fool’s errand.
For example, the “libs” suggest that defenders of Trump’s Corona-to-Chinese virus edit might be embarrassed and desperately spinning now that Trump hence has sucked up to China’s President, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.
(As Trump tweeting on March 27 after “a very good” phone call with Xi, “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”)
Many Trump defenders have also declared how global pandemics are always named after their purported origins, suggesting in this case — with just a soupçon of white Western denigration — we’re suffering again from backwards dirty people.
Respectfully, their nativism ignores how America is responsible for the 2009 “Swine Flu”/H1N1 pandemic that originated in our pig farms. Or the inconvenient facts about the biologically related but misnamed 1918 “Spanish Flu,” the world’s last deadly pandemic. Regarding that:
The facts explain the strain did not reign from Spain.
It’s called the “Spanish Flu” because Spain, which was neutral in WWI, still allowed the mainstream media to do its job as other governments clamped down on press freedom. The origin actually may have been Britain or France or wherever. Look it up.
But the lesson from the Spanish Flu goes beyond the naming and blaming.
The horrible “mainstream media” — however imperfect, inconvenient or challenging to our beliefs — helps contain the spread of pandemics by spreading information we need. Trashing the media, while fun, easy and often stupid, hurts people. Europe’s media-clamping governments wanted to suppress information about the 1918 pandemic. But the Spanish media did its job and probably saved lives. As thanks, history blames Spain.
The real media’s job — like it or not — is to challenge politicians and their official state media, from Chinese leader Xi Jinping with his “Media of the People’s Republic of China,” to Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, most Arab leaders and a friend to many of murderous authoritarians, the U.S. president and his right-wing media machine.
Let’s be honest, shall we?
When Trump, Pompeo and their amen chorus call this pandemic the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus, it’s not innocent. It’s not to be more honest and precise than anyone, calling a spade a spade. Nobody’s fooled. It’s mean-spirited political gas-lighting, deliberately provocative to get a rise from the “libs” because Trump Nation loves it.
But meanness, however fun, is not what we need right now.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.