Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

U.S. President Donald Trump is flanked by Vice President Mike Pence

U.S. President Donald Trump is flanked by Vice President Mike Pence while speaking during a news briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Trump's Anti-Chinese Racist Campaign Strategy Mobilizes Right-Wing Extremists

The move is part of a broader Trump campaign strategy in the run-up to the November presidential elections.

Joel Wendland-Liu

In a direct attack on China and a clear indictment of international cooperation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally ordered withholding funds from the World Health Organization. In a White House statement, Trump accused the international body of "preferential treatment" for China and "mismanaging" the pandemic.

Not only is this racist strategy a blow to democracy in the U.S., but it also puts many lives at risk, here and around the world.

Aside from the glaring hypocrisy and irony of Trump's projection of his mismanagement of the crisis onto international actors, the move is part of a broader Trump campaign strategy in the run-up to the November presidential elections. The strategy entails using anti-Chinese xenophobia and racism to mobilize white voters to support Trump and Republican candidates.

Not only is this racist strategy a blow to democracy in the U.S., but it also puts many lives at risk, here and around the world.

U.S. public opinion has turned sharply against the Trump administration because of its unsympathetic incompetence in handling the epidemic .

Trump ally and right-wing columnist Ben Shapiro, in social media and published columns, promoted this racist strategy. He senselessly defended the racist use of the phrase "Chinese virus." Shapiro and other Republican commentators and politicians have used the term to blame China for the pandemic openly. "The Chinese government is chiefly responsible," he wrote, and described it as having been deliberately "unleashed."

In a tweet in mid-March, Shapiro wrote, "If the media want Trump re-elected by massive numbers, they should keep asking him why he's mean to China after they unleashed coronavirus on an unsuspecting world." Shapiro claimed that the virus originated because of alleged Chinese unsanitary food culture, and implied that the Chinese government used it as an attack on the U.S.

Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott recklessly accused China of causing the pandemic with the WHO as an accomplice. "The bottom line is the WHO's actions and China's actions killed a lot of people," the Trump ally claimed. Scott, who went unpunished for his part in a massive medical fraud scandal as the CEO of Columbia/HCA, represents a state that is usually considered a toss-up in presidential elections.

Other Republican politicians attempted to promote conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus to fuel this campaign strategy. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas cruelly claimed that the virus originated in a military facility supposedly near Wuhan, China, and was deployed as a military operation.

These contradictory conspiracy theories were echoed by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who added the demagogic and odd proposal that the U.S. should refuse to pay the public debt owed to China. Graham's demand seemed to indicate his low-level of knowledge of how the international bond market works.

Given the contradictions between Shapiro's and Cotton's theories about the origins of the virus, it is evident that Republican campaign strategists do not care about learning or sharing scientific truths about the disease. Instead, they want to promote fear and hostility to deflect from the incompetence of the Trump administration and his callous response to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

A group of scientists prudently cautioned, "Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors, and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus."

In an open letter published in the British science journal The Lancet, a group of scientists prudently cautioned, "Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors, and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus."

False and racist rhetoric as a strategy in the presidential campaign has coincided with a surge of anti-Asian racism and hostility in the U.S. In late March, the New York Times interviewed dozens of Asian Americans, who reported being yelled at, spit on, and treated with hostility since Trump's decision to deflect his incompetence with anti-China rhetoric.

"The rhetoric from the nation's highest office is creating a climate of hate that is permeating the country and putting people at risk," warned Southern Poverty Law Center's interim CEO Karen Baynes Dunning. "There has been an increase in reports of bias-related attacks against Asians and Asian Americans in communities and online."

In the state of Michigan, also a hotly contested state in the presidential election, "multiple reports of discrimination and bias incidents targeting Asian Americans and individuals of Asian descent in Michigan" raised new alarms, according to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Denise Yee Grim, who serves on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, in a public message directly to President Trump, said, "You just put a target on the Asian community." She cited physical assaults on Asian people as well as boycotts of Asian-American owned businesses.

Militias, neo-Nazis, and neo-Confederates

Republican rhetoric about the virus and China fans the flames of racist hatred. The president and his allies crave racist violence, abuses, and hostility to flourish between now and the election, perhaps even permanently. These so-called leaders might as well be walking the streets themselves lashing out at Asian Americans. But they will leave that work up to their emboldened fans and followers.

In Michigan this week, the Republican Party mobilized a pro-Trump political rally that defied medical advice about social distancing and demanded an end to the statewide stay-at-home order.

In Michigan this week, the Republican Party mobilized a pro-Trump political rally that defied medical advice about social distancing and demanded an end to the statewide stay-at-home order. The Republican Party rally was fueled in part by a widespread fear of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's popularity for authoritatively taking on Trump's callous response to the pandemic and forcing him to use more federal resources to address it.

In part, the rally organizers were motivated by Trump's widespread lies and distortions of the "stay-at-home" policy spread, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Republican media personality Meghan McCain. For her part, Whitmer ordered a moratorium on utility shut-offs and extensions for rent payments, won promises from health insurers to pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment, and accessed stockpiles of persona protective equipment for healthcare workers and a host of other worker protections during the pandemic.

The pro-Trump political rally prompted participation from large groups of heavily armed right-wing militias along with the white supremacist Proud Boys waving the Confederate flag. Dark money groups tied to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump campaign funded the event.

Public health experts warned that the gathering of so many people for the Republican Party rally could result in the further spread of the virus and necessitate an extension of the "stay-at-home" order.

Fox News, the right-wing, and COVID-19 capitalism

Right-wing media has taken up Trump's demand to force people to defy medical advice to stay at home during the pandemic and return to the workplace. Anti-worker ideologue Scott Walker told Fox News that workers should be forced to return to manufacturing first. Companies should close down break rooms, he said, and force workers to stay at their machines.

TV-Dr. Oz told Fox News that authorities should force children back to school. Describing that idea as "appetizing," Oz claimed that a 2-3% mortality would be likely but acceptable to him.

The energized campaign to force people back to work and back into the public puts the lives of workers and their families at risk of infection, illness, and death.

Adding to the push to force workers back into the economy and children back into schools was another celebrity "Dr." Phil McGraw. McGraw told his viewers that staying at home to stop the spread of COVID-19 would have economic effects that would be deadlier than the disease.

The energized campaign to force people back to work and back into the public puts the lives of workers and their families at risk of infection, illness, and death. It dovetails with right-wing callousness and resistance to public interventions during times of social crisis. It highlights the worst characteristics of neoliberal political strategies that aim to privatize public entities and energize the predatory nature of the corporate sector to profit from disaster.

More fundamentally, this move exposes how desperate capitalism is to access the labor-power of the 22 million workers who have been laid off and the millions more whose productivity has been drastically reduced due to the pandemic. Because capitalism cannot operate without the labor-power of workers, the profits of the capitalist class are in danger. Thus, they have mobilized right-wing callousness to shift the public discourse from solidarity against the disease and support for the working class in this crisis to the return to work.

The Trump campaign and the Republican Party have shown themselves willing to align with this capitalist urge. They have used campaign and public resources to mobilize their fringe allies in the militia movement, as well as neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate elements to threaten public officials who resist forcing workers into dangerous exposure for the sake of Wall Street profits.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu is an associate professor in the Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies Department at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Flint Residents 'Disgusted' After Court Throws Out Indictments of Top Officials

"It has become increasingly clear that the judicial system is not a viable option for a poor majority Black community facing injustice," said Flint Rising.

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders, Fetterman Urge Buttigieg to Fine Airlines Over Flight Cancellations

"The American people are sick of airlines ripping them off, canceling flights at the last minute, and delaying flights for hours on end," said the Vermont senator.

Jake Johnson ·


In Blow to Voting Rights, SCOTUS Saves Louisiana's Racially Rigged Electoral Map

"Black Louisianans deserve fair representation. The fight for racial justice and equality is far from over," vowed one civil rights group.

Brett Wilkins ·


Watching US With Horror, European Groups Push Leaders to Strengthen Abortion Rights

"This is an important moment for leaders across Europe who are committed to reproductive rights to lead by example and galvanize action in their own countries," said one campaigner.

Jake Johnson ·


Women Face Chaos, Torment as Abortion Clinics Shutter Across US

Clinic workers are attempting to get patients appointments out-of-state while women stockpile emergency contraception, fearing overcrowded clinics even in states that protect reproductive rights.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo