There is no crisis so great that Donald Trump won’t try to exploit it to increase the racial divisions and hate that helped propel him to power. That means coronavirus, too, and Trump’s use of “China virus” or “Chinese virus” for COVID-19 is having the intended effect: whipping up hatred against not just Chinese people but Asian people more generally.
Hate crimes against Asian people are on the rise. A study by researchers in the San Francisco State University Asian American Studies program found that “Coronavirus discrimination news increased by 50% from 93 articles in week 1 to 140 stories in week 4.” Lead researcher Russell Jeung told The New York Times that this was “the tip of the iceberg,” since the study tracked only incidents serious enough to draw media coverage.
Jeung set up a website to track incidents and has gotten 150 responses in just days. Similarly, “We’ve never received this many news tips about racism against Asians,” the founder of Asian American news site NextShark told The Times. “It’s crazy. My staff is pulling double duty just to keep up.”
This is not some kind of problem of red states and small towns, either. Tzi Ma, a star of Mulan and The Farewell, was told “You should be quarantined” outside a Whole Foods in Pasadena, California. In New York, the head of a hospital emergency department was harassed while he was at Home Depot buying protective gear for his staff.
It’s not all verbal harassment, either. A teenage boy in California’s San Fernando Valley had to go to the emergency room to be checked for a concussion after an attack, and at least two people in New York City have been assaulted while waiting for trains or buses.
But don’t expect Donald Trump to stop promoting this kind of vicious bigotry. It’s his go-to political strategy, and the crisis—not the public health one, but his personal political one—will only make him cling more tightly to what’s worked in the past.