Four or five years ago, who would have thought (predicted) that a President of the United States would be considered the least credible and least helpful leader in the world during a worldwide health crisis? The steady erosion of credibility began before election and has only increased over time. The pettiness, mendacity, churlishness and vindictiveness has never stopped. The ignorance of science and disrespect of scientists is ever present. The childish tweets full of conspiracy theories, insults, grammatical and spelling errors are daily. The result of all this and more brought Trump to this point of irrelevance, distraction and maybe doing more harm than good.
I have followed with some interest and curiosity Trump’s choice to call COVID 19 the “China virus” and “Wuhan virus”. The press picked up on it immediately and so did the Chinese. Then, many Republican politicians, including John Cornyn, followed suit. Trump, of course, said he was merely describing the virus’ point of origin, but we all know there is more to it than that. Trump wants to blame and stigmatize China, its government and citizens. He also wants to deflect blame and attention from himself. There can be no doubt that China is, if not our outright enemy, at least our most serious rival economically and militarily. What does Trump and what do we have to gain by strongly implying, if not downright accusing China of being at fault for starting this pandemic? I’m not arguing for appeasement. Rather, I’m suggesting that Trump should save his confrontation for something that matters and it doesn’t matter at this late moment who is to blame, if anyone.
There is a theory or rumor that Trump is happy to spread (like a virus one might say) that this outbreak began in China at a market for wild animal meat. I have read that some Chinese slaughter and eat bats and other wild birds and game. While I believe the scientists are now saying this theory is wrong, why was Trump so anxious to get it out there? I personally deplore this cultural practice and believe it is responsible for the decimation of wildlife. I believe the same could be said for the effects of Chinese traditional medicine. But, we shouldn’t think for a moment that the United States can change cultural traditions in China that have existed for thousands of years. We can be assured that if the Chinese government believes that slaughtering bats caused serious harm to their economy, they will do something about it, but it won’t be because Trump said so. In fact, Trump calling out China may make change less likely and their cooperation less likely. The Chinese can always be depended upon to act in their self-interest and only their self-interest.
In the meantime, the second phase of Trump’s trade talks with China lay ahead. Trump got very little, if anything, of value in round one. Now, he is facing a domestic and worldwide recession, a presidential election, a possible loss of the Senate, an oil price crisis, a gigantic federal budget deficit, an escalating military confrontation with Iran, and it is just about time for North Korea to start trouble again. With all these important things going on, why is it smart to antagonize, torment, and accuse China about something that is, in the final analysis, irrelevant and won’t change anything for the better?
As a final thought, who is it that comes up with these communication strategies? How can it be that Republicans are saying the same thing the same way within 24 hours? There must be a daily messaging memo or talking points memo.