Donald Trump has been mostly silent as coronavirus fears have spurred racist outbursts and attacks against Asians and Asian Americans in recent months.
In Los Angeles, a man on the subway verbally harassed a Thai American woman he presumably believed to be Chinese, making racist comments about how "every disease has ever came from China," and claiming falsely, "Everything comes from China because they're fucking disgusting," according to CNN.
In Indiana, two Asian men were denied a room at a hotel because the clerk said "there is a coronavirus going around," adding that anyone from China "has to be picked up and quarantined for two weeks." There is no policy in the United States that requires Asians or Asian Americans to be "quarantined for two weeks."
Several Asian restaurants in Denver have also reported a drop in business in recent months based on misguided concerns about the coronavirus. There are no reported cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by a strain of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China — in the entire state of Colorado.
On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) visited several Asian businesses in the city. "It's important in the face of coronavirus that Coloradans don't take it out on any Asian American Coloradans or Asian-owned businesses," Polis said.
Similar trends have been reported elsewhere in the country.
Since the outbreak began, the United States has experienced "a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans," members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, led by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to their colleagues.
The letter, signed by 23 members of Congress, urged colleagues to use their public positions to help "prevent hysteria, ignorant attacks, and racist assaults" and avoid sharing misinformation regarding the 2019 outbreak.
The new coronavirus was discovered in the Wuhan region in late 2019. Thus far, the majority of cases have been concentrated in China, but there are more than 100 confirmed cases in the United States and thousands more in other countries such as South Korea, Iran, and Italy.
In total, around 89,000 people worldwide have been infected.
Rather than confront the surge in discrimination and xenophobia that has come with that outbreak, however, Trump has largely chosen to remain silent.
What he has chosen to speak out on has been mostly focused on himself.
On several occasions, Trump has taken time to criticize those skeptical of his initial decision to restrict travel from China.
"So it was a, you know, bold decision," Trump said at a Feb. 26 press conference intended to discuss the coronavirus. "It turned out to be a good decision. But I was criticized by the Democrats. They called me a racist because I made that decision, if you can believe that one."
At a meeting with black leaders the following day, intended to honor Black History Month, he repeated that claim, saying, "Democrats said I was a racist. Not from black-people standpoint, but from Asian-people standpoint, from Chinese-people standpoint."
Trump has also repeatedly praised his administration's response to the outbreak.
Meanwhile, attacks against Asians and Asian Americans have risen across the country.
Much of that racism has been fueled by misinformation and viral conspiracies on the internet.
In the early days of the outbreak, some conservative organizations engaged in racist tropes targeting Chinese people. A Trump-linked group described Chinese people in a January blog post as "disease carriers" and pushed racist tropes about Chinese eating habits.
The blog post made a veiled reference to a video of a Chinese woman eating a cooked bat, which had earlier sparked widespread hysteria about so-called "wet markets" in China that sell fresh meat and fish, as well as some live animals. The post did not address the fact that the video was three years old and featured a travel blogger eating bat soup in Palau, Micronesia.
Some members of Congress, rather than sharing factual news, have also opted to push racist conspiracies.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) hypothesized that the coronavirus may have been created at a "secretive" biochemical lab in China.
"We don't have evidence that this disease originated there," he said, "but because of China's duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all."
Experts have since debunked the claim.
Trump has trafficked in his own racist tropes in the past, criticizing immigrants as disease carriers during the 2016 campaign and suggesting they were bringing illnesses across the southern border. At a meeting with lawmakers in January 2018, he derided countries like Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of African nations as "shithole countries," questioning why the United States couldn't bring in more immigrants from places like Norway.
According to the Washington Post, he also suggested at the time that "he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically."
This week he also floated the idea of shutting down the southern border to prevent further spread of the coronavirus — despite the fact that the United States currently has dozens more cases than Mexico and Central America.
The move appears to be the latest attempt to implement increasingly stringent policies aimed at deterring asylum seekers and preventing nonwhite immigrants from those regions from entering the United States, under the guise of strengthening national security.
"We are thinking about the southern border," he said. "We are looking at that very strongly."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Trump plans to address the issue of anti-Asian racism spurred by the coronavirus outbreak.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.