BEG: Trump’s COVID-19 speech perpetuates xenophobia

President+Donald+Trump+gave+his+March+11+speech++at+the+White+House.+Photo+via+Flickr.+

President Donald Trump gave his March 11 speech at the White House. Photo via Flickr.

Americans across the country sat in front of their television screens March 11, anticipating President Donald Trump’s address on the spreading COVID-19, hoping to gain some insight or answers that would quell anxiety. All television programs were cut, and Trump was seen sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, ready to speak to the cameras.

When the world is in panic due to deadly circumstances, citizens should be able to turn to their leaders at such a difficult time. World leaders must understand their duty to unite their countries and take responsibility for solving disasters.

Trump’s speech on Wednesday did not provide the American people the comfort they sought from their president. He used his speech to further divide the country, and in actuality, it left people confused on the reality of the COVID-19 situation.

Trump personified the novel coronavirus as an enemy to the United States, framing it as a country that has infiltrated U.S. borders. He said, we are at war with a “foreign virus.”

Labeling the virus as “foreign” eradicates the severity of the problem and takes all responsibility off of Trump and his administration. It puts the blame on the origin of the virus and the country whose citizens experienced the spread first: China.

The label perpetuates xenophobic ideals and values by leading Americans to believe that it is China’s fault the virus reached the U.S. It gives racist and ignorant Americans an excuse to continue throwing hateful rhetoric against Chinese people, even though it is not China’s fault.

When Trump said this, he took the spotlight away from his administration’s lacking effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, such as initially downplaying its severity and being slow to respond to the spread.

We cannot treat COVID-19 as another enemy country. Instead, we should calmly use tactics recommended by health organizations, such as social distancing and self-quarantine, to reduce the spread of the disease.

Trump’s speech also made it seem like the virus reaching America was a shock, which creates more panic. In fact, the entire pandemic was predicted long before it occurred. Last fall, Politico gathered a group of experts to run a scenario in which a new strain of coronavirus spread globally. The article said scientists agreed that this was a likely pathogen for a future epidemic.

Trump is using the same hateful rhetoric he has used since the beginning of his campaign in 2016. The only difference is the country is now dealing with a pandemic. Trump continues to push the same racist and xenophobic agenda no matter the severity of the country’s situation. As of March 17, there are 4,718 confirmed cases in the United States with 93 deaths, and the numbers are increasing daily. 

He equated the virus itself to non-American people, creating dangerous ideological divisions and continuing this false narrative by completely banning European citizens from entering the United States for 30 days.

Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, tweeted that the travel bans will not make the United States safer.

Bruce Aylward, an assistant director for the World Health Organization, also found that banning outsiders from entering a country’s border has done nothing to prevent the disease from spreading. Aylward said that the decrease of cases in China is due to better efforts to educate people and identify cases, not banning travelers.

Italy, the European country with the greatest number of cases currently at 27,980, first banned anyone from China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated, from entering their country. As seen by the numbers in Italy right now, this did nothing to prevent the spread. The number of cases doubled in just four days, and the country continues to face exponential growth.

The travel ban also ignores the fact that the virus has already reached the U.S., and rather than spreading xenophobic messages, Trump should have presented a plan of action.

Even when he attempted to explain the actions of the administration, Trump named solutions that were not even true such as the claim that Google was working on a site to allow people to see if they should get tested. This was an inflation of the truth and Google denied the validity of the president’s statement, thus inciting more confusion within the public.

The focus should not be on outside infiltration, but on the actions Trump and the administration need to be taking to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The country needs to implement full-scale testing and stronger communication — elements Trump barely addressed even though scientists have explained how they are our best chance of keeping the virus’ effects from worsening.

Trump’s efforts to discuss the problem came too late as the disease is quickly spreading in the United States, and his administration is failing to keep up. The government’s inadequacy is especially stark in comparison with other countries.

As of March 13, South Korea had run nearly 250,000 tests since the country’s first COVID-19 case was detected early February while the United States had run about 13,600 tests since its first case was confirmed late January. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the U.S. has conducted about 47,400 tests as of March 17.

The Trump administration should have been making preparations to combat the coronavirus once it reached the United States after witnessing it spread across the globe.

The American people should be able to look to their leader in stressful times for support and guidance. Trump continues to fail the American people, as they cannot rely on the government for answers or support. People should instead look toward scientists and experts for guidance on what to do to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

People should stay indoors whenever possible, practice social distancing and stay home if sick. Do not perpetuate the panic and do not blame anyone. This is not the fault of China or Italy. We must do our part to stop the division of xenophobia when the world must be unified as one.

This story was written by Aminah Beg. She can be reached at aminah.beg@marquette.edu.