In a recently released ad, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden attacked Donald Trump’s COVID-19 pandemic response from a right-wing perspective, criticizing the president for “roll[ing] over for the Chinese.”
The ad attacks President Trump for thanking the Chinese government for its efforts to contain the coronavirus, “praising China” 15 times in January and February, failing to send a CDC team to China and allowing 40,000 travelers from China to enter the U.S. in the two months after Trump announced a ban on such travel.
Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, stated in a tweet thread Saturday that Biden is “already trying to out-Trump Trump.”
“This kind of fearmongering is causing violent attacks on Asian Americans,” Wang stated in an initial tweet. “If you are trying to reform your past history of racist policymaking, like your 1994 crime bill, you had better do some homework. This ain’t it.”
Wang continued to state that she “desperately” wants Biden to defeat Trump in the presidential election, but she is not okay with his “foment[ing] racist scapegoating.” She said she wants Biden to run on a platform that everyone can fight for.
As Wang highlights in the thread, the Biden campaign’s choice to critique the Trump administration’s disastrously failed and unprepared pandemic response primarily on the basis of opposing and scapegoating China is bad leadership and amounts to little more than conservative, right-wing propaganda.
“Of all the ways Trump has actively obstructed a sensible public policy on covid, causing countless lives lost in the U.S., @JoeBiden’s going to fixate on the PRC angle and put out a propaganda film that will fuel racists attacks on Asian Americans? No, I am not having it,” Wang stated in a tweet.
There are countless legitimate criticisms to be had with the Trump administration’s failed pandemic response, but failing to be tough enough on China is not one of those. The trump administration already received criticism and accusations of xenophobia for instituting the travel ban from areas of China with virus hot spots, but the Biden ad implies Trump should have banned all travel from China. This position is comparable to another country banning travel from West Virginia or elsewhere in the U.S. months ago when the only confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country were in New York City—debatable, but not egregious or obvious in any sense. Why did the Biden campaign only attack Trump’s response based on a right-wing perspective that China is some greater enemy?
This also is not to say there are not legitimate criticisms of the Chinese government’s response to the pandemic; there are. For example, the Chinese government likely withheld information about the virus’s capability of spreading from person to person. But for weeks or perhaps even months after learning such information, the Trump administration continued to downplay the potential dangers of the virus at every turn, even into March. Trump even referred to the virus as a “hoax.” Why does the Biden campaign not focus on criticizing these failures instead, without making thinly-veiled, generalizing and scapegoating claims about “the Chinese?”
In the following tweet, Wang highlights a key distinction which renders the Biden campaign’s ad extremely problematic and dangerous. This distinction is that the ad does not come off as Biden merely criticizing and scapegoating the Chinese government, but also Chinese and Asian people.
“Watch the ad,” Wang tweeted. “It is stoking fears of Chinese hordes coming into the U.S.”
Regardless of whether the only intent of the ad is to criticize the government of China or all Chinese and Asian people, the framework of the argument being made by the Biden campaign is fundamentally right-wing. In the ad, Biden is attacking Trump from the right rather than from the left—from a conservative rather than a progressive perspective. And that is why the ad is not only controversial and problematic but also dangerous. It is right-wing propaganda which will almost inevitably further incite racism and bigotry from right-wingers across the country.
As Wang explains in another tweet, “I hate to break it to you, but people who will stab a two year old kid because they’re Asian are not going to get these subtleties. Propaganda is not meant to be nuanced. It is meant to incite emotions.”
Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]