Pandemic Diary Installation #40
May 11, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about an escalation in racially motivated incidents towards people of Asian decent all around the world.
Most embarrassingly, in the US, it is coming from the top with both Mike Pompeo and Trump fueling these attacks. Their criticisms of China’s handling of the pandemic, their completely unfounded claims the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan and their constant references to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” or the “kung-flu” is not only perfidious but sets a precedence of bigotry and hatred that will backfire on the US as a whole.
White House staff has suggested to reporters that there was consideration of such scare tactics as abandoning U.S. debt obligations to China, a ludicrous statement because as anyone familiar with finance would know that would destroy America’s financial credibility around the world. As Adam Posen, the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told the Washington Post, “In economic terms, this is worse than telling people to drink bleach.”
The White House is not alone in this inanity. “China unleashed this plague on the world,” according to Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The Senator from Arkansas has proposed banning Chinese pharmaceuticals from entering the US. Certainly not the most brilliant or wise move during the race for a cure. At the same time the Representative from Indiana, Jim Banks, has been calling for tariffs on Chinese products. A ridiculous concept that has already proven disasterous when it was done in early 2019.
Even the highly respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci is perplexed. “I don’t get what they’re talking about… if it isn’t manipulated in the lab and you’re trying to say it escaped from the lab then how did it get in the lab? It got in the lab because somebody isolated it from the environment.”
This is not the first time the Asian community has been unduly accused of an illness.
In 1838, for instance, the travel writer Charles Toogood Downing wrote of smallpox: this dreadful malady is supposed to have originated among the Chinese, and to have spread westward…This was all based on the opinions of a bigoted Frenchman living in Beijing at the time, and was not true. But that was the 1800s, we have better science and hopefully cooler heads in the 21st century.
It is interesting to note that while, yes, this coronavirus did begin in China, the city of New York, the most heavily hit city in the US at this time, received its virus from Europe. Making the lock down of our borders with China as a first move rather superfulous.
The study of virus mutations is extremely complicated, but how the virus altered into new genomes as it moved from China to Europe is being tracked. These changes are then uploaded to an online database called GISAID. This information is analyzed in a project called Nextstrain. This is science, and science is the way we are going to understand and conquer this disease, not with prejudice but with Science with a capital S.
There is also a diplomatic problem with this dogmatism that comes from such a high level in our government, the erosion of America as a leader and a partner during world crisis.
Carl Bildt, Swedish prime minister in the 1990s, and a UN envoy, said when speaking with Anne Applebaum, reporter for The Atlantic, that he cannot remember a single international crisis in which the United States had no global presence at all. “Normally, when something happens” — a war, an earthquake — “everybody waits to see what the Americans are doing, for better or for worse, and then they calibrate their own response based on that.” Now we are doing nothing to show that type of leadership.
Bildt is not the only one wondering what is happening with a once great country. Headlines from around the world read like headlines from The Onion, some include those from the respected and usually straight-laced Kompas, of Indonesia — Trump Usulkan Suntik Disinfektan dan Sinar UV untuk Obati Covid-19, to the often irreverant Le Monde of France — Les élucubrations du « docteur » Trump.”
This has far reaching consequences diplomatically that will last for decades to come. While America is eschewing the outside world, countries like China are stepping in not just with goods such as PPE’s but with money. These things buy influence around the world at a time when the US is experiencing a new and disconcerting wave of Isolationism. Trump’s trade war with China, and Xi Jinping’s growing hostility to the West has strained our countries relationship to its most frangible point in decades. And now Beijing sees itself ascending the world leader ladder while we watch the US’s position as a world leader rapidly slipping away.
On Monday the 4th of May the European Union held a fund-raising conference call raising $8 billion in pledges from countries around the world. The sole purpose of the money is to fund laboratories that have promising leads in developing and producing a vaccine. World Health Organization chief Ghebreyesus praised the effort as a powerful show of “global solidarity”.
The US did not participate.
While the US is a large donor to humanitarian efforts around the world, this fundraising effort was more about unity than money, and the US chose to stay away.
As a result of the US lack of participation Robin Niblett, director of the London-based think tank Chatham House said “The American approach to the coronavirus continues to play into the narrative of the United States isolating itself.” “It also shaves off another layer of the U.S. long-term legitimacy.”
This was echoed in the statement made at the time by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “The truth is, none of us can succeed alone.” He went on to say the world “must work together to build an impregnable shield around all our people.” Shinzo Abe Prime Minister of Japan urged the world to “unite to overcome the crisis”.
French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that once a vaccine has been developed, it be treated as “global public property” with access available for “the whole of the planet”. Which is noble, correct and in direct opposition to the stance exalted by the US, as was born out in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper which quoted an anonymous German government source as saying that Trump was doing everything he could to secure a vaccine for the United States, “but only for the US.”
In fact, when world leaders held a conference call at the behest of the World Health Organization it was to commit to distributing a future coronavirus vaccine in an internationally equitable way, the United States didn’t join in.
Former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, wrote in Foreign Affairs that the US had “left an indelible impression around the world of a country incapable of handling its own crises, let alone anybody else’s.” and “uncomfortable truth is that China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this crisis significantly diminished.”
On Friday Representative Ted Yoho (R) of Florida and Reprepresentative Ami Bera (D) of California sent a letter to Pompeo strongly pointing out the risks of a isolationist approach not only in the search for a vaccine but also the manufacturing of one.
“We should prepare ourselves for the potential consequences if a US vaccine candidate is not the winner of the international vaccine race.” “The market for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will truly be a global one. It will require international supply chains for material ranging from preservatives to glass vials, which the US may not have the capacity to produce solely on its own.”
Should we continue down this “we don’t need no stinkin outsiders” road we are endangering out future in so many more ways than we can imagine. factions within America have become more and more critical of people from different religions, countries and ways of life. And it is easy to see why when we have a WH occupant that refers to our less prosperous allies as “shithole countries”.
Comments like this incite an entire group of people to distrust anyone that isn’t like them. This is a very dangerous mindset. We are a part of a global pandemic, Covid-19 does not respect borders so it needs to be treated that way, as a global problem. Creating and fostering paranoia of the rest of the world has serious ramifications.
The US is just one part of a world that trades goods across borders and oceans, be it cheese or antibiotics and other life saving products. Are we good with endangering not just the economy but our health and safety out of unfounded paranoia and arrogance?
Going solo, as these government employees suggest, will make any future pandemic so much more difficult to tackle. We need to be well connected and have good diplomatic relations around the world, now more than ever.
This hateful rhetoric has consequences, it is not just sounding off or funny off-the-cuff nonsense, it has ramifications for real people.
Coming from a place of white privilege, I grew up with the feeling that I was very lucky to have been born in this country. This pandemic and the abysmal lack of leadership coming out of Washington is about to destroy that forever if we don’t change course. This country and its leadership must understand that laying blame is for little children and playgrounds, it is time to stand up for, and work towards, a world that is united around the goal of conquering this horrible disease. In a crisis, a world that works together for the common good is a safer and happier place to live.
My Horoscope for today: People feel like you owe them an explanation, but you don’t. Leave that controversial topic right where it is.
San Francisco weather: 61 Degrees and cloudy
NYSE DOW opened at: 24256
NYSE DOW one year ago: 25568
Foreign word of the day: repellant
Spanish: el repelente
OED word of the day: adespota (In classical scholarship: works of literature, esp. in Greek, not attributed to a particular author.)
Days under Shelter In Place: 56
Reading: If Nuns Ruled the World by Jo Piazza
Studying Dante’s Purgatorio
A Special Something: Pedal Born Pictures filmed Berkeley during SIP helping to build a record for posterity of how the town coped during the public health crisis.
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something Silly From the Internet:
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