On Saturday, President Donald Trump held his first re-election campaign rally since states nationwide issued shelter-in-place orders and mandated restrictions on crowd sizes to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. To everyone’s surprise, the event was largely successful and critics applauded the president’s tactful and sensible talking points in the face of an international crisis.
Just kidding! It was a disaster.
Trump used the spotlight to boast about the administration’s widely panned emergency response plan, spread baseless conspiracy theories about the pandemic being a media hoax, and refer to covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, using the racist term “Kung Flu.” The audience there at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was also a fraction of the campaign’s expected turnout thanks to an ingenious, covert campaign by TikTok teens and K-pop stans.
Even more alarming, Trump claimed that his administration’s response has been so successful that he’s asked officials to “slow the testing down, please” because, as he’s argued several times before, higher coronavirus test numbers lead to higher case tallies. Which is some seriously sound-proof logic: If you simply ignore how many people are affected by a problem, the problem goes away on its own, right? Right?
In reality, coronavirus cases have been spiking in several states nationwide, including in Oklahoma, where the rally was held. Demand for testing still outpaces supplies in many states and cities even though they’ve begun to loosen lockdown restrictions. The U.S. currently leads the world in total number of covid-19 cases at 2.2 million to date, more than twice that of the nation with the second-highest number of cases, Brazil.
But obviously you wouldn’t think that from the way the president talks.
“COVID. To be specific, COVID-19. That name gets further and further away from China, as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus,” Trump said. “We – I – did a phenomenal job with it.”
A White House official told CNN on Sunday that the president was “obviously kidding” about the call to slow down testing, no doubt as part of a large-scale scramble to perform damage control.
However, that wasn’t Trump’s only embarrassing gaffe of the evening:
“By the way, it’s a disease, without question, has more names than any other in history. I can name, Kung Flu, I can name, 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is, many call it a flu, what difference, I think we have 19 or 20 versions of the name,” he continued.
The World Health Organization has vehemently advised against referring to the virus in racist or geographical terms so as to avoid potentially inciting racial profiling against Asians.
“Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank,” said Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s Emergencies Program, during a news conference earlier this year.
Trump’s remark also directly contradicts his administration’s previously stated stance on the matter. In March, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who is Chinese-American, said she personally heard an unnamed White House official refer to the virus as the “Kung Flu.” At the time, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called the remark “highly offensive” when asked about the incident by reporters and encouraged Jiang to come forward with the staffer’s name.
That same month, Trump claimed at a coronavirus task force briefing that calling covid-19 the “China virus” or “Wuhan virus,” for the city where the epidemic’s believed to have originated, is “not racist at all. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
In addition to slowing down testing (despite all evidence that that is a very bad idea), he added that most kids have a “great immune system,” so there’s zero reason for schools to remain empty. “Let’s open the schools, please!”
Of course, children can and do contract the virus, which has proven fatal in many cases. I can’t help but wonder if Trump came to this conclusion because he’s a fan of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter account. Back in March, Musk tweeted that children are “essentially immune” to the virus with zero evidence to back up the claim.
The Trump campaign has been widely criticized for its decision to hold a rally during the middle of a pandemic, since cramming thousands of people into an enclosed space without requirements for social distancing or face coverings is practically a virus’s wet dream. Calls for local officials to make wearing face masks mandatory at the event prompted an Oklahoma Supreme Court case. Ultimately, the court declined to make attendees wear masks. Six staffers for the Trump campaign tested positive for the virus and were immediately quarantined before the event began.
As for the next few stops on what I’m calling Trump’s “Covid-Palooza Tour,” the president is heading to Arizona and Wisconsin later this week. We would say that we hope he doesn’t continue to make outrageous, incorrect, and/or potentially dangerous claims there, but who are we kidding. We know he will.