By Emil Guillermo
I hope there’s plenty o f aloha left in Hawaii. The world could use it.
Donald Trump is not doing well. He said he was tested but couldn’t describe the test. He would if he could. Like the hole-in-one he shot. So he probably wasn’t tested no matter what a White House memo says.
Still, from his history, we can say during this public health crisis, the president is acting normal.
Which is bad. He needs to step up his game. Insisting on calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” for about a week, was a step down. That was like saying to the public, it’s OK to be racist toward Asian Americans.
And because we all look alike, that means Filipinos too.
It’s already weird when people who don’t talk to you normally are justified by Trump to really be aware how they must not talk to you–as a matter of life and death.
That’s extreme “social distancing” for you. The new kind.
When you’re an Asian American or a person of color, the old “social distancing” used to mean just one thing—racism.
It was just a form of separation, what happens when people segregated from the “other.”
No need to hang out with us. Distance was mandatory.
I thought of that as I practiced my civic duty of the new “social distancing” in my first online meeting during the virus era—on the first weekend of being locked down in California.
As the volunteer museum director of the Filipino American National History Museum in Stockton, I knew my small group of colleagues would want to gather and have a sense of community.
One of the first questions I asked them was if they felt anything different when they went out in public, especially after the president doubled down and insisted on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus.”
His way of connecting the old form of social distancing with the new.
Filipinos, after the Chinese, are the second largest Asian American group in California. We have Spanish last names, Asian blood, and American citizenship.
One person in the group didn’t hesitate. “Yeah,” he said, describing a scene at a grocery store when something threatening was said. “I just ignored it.”
Admirably, my friend was trying to be above it all. You know, when they go low, we go high? He didn’t really want to talk about it further. But we all know it’s out there. And it’s as real as the virus.
And it’s Donald Trump talking about his “Chinese Virus” that was spreading it around. Asian Americans know from our history of exclusion that when Americans need a scapegoat, we’re there.
So imagine my surprise to see Trump at the Monday (March 23) White House briefing.
“Americans must remain united in purpose and focused on victory,” he said, reading boilerplate from the script. “To every single American please know that the sacrifice you are making at this time is saving lives… many many lives.”
He was ad libbing the tail part of that. His way of trying to sound real.
But then he returned to the script for a real surprise.
“It’s very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world,” Trump said.
Was he trying to placate his full level Cabinet secretary Elaine Chao, a/k/a Mrs. Mitch McConnell? We know Trump doesn’t read the New York Times, but maybe he’s seen the anecdotal stories on Twitter of Asian Americans being accosted?
So despite the prior week, when he angrily insisted that calling it the “Chinese virus” wasn’t racist or offensive to Asian Americans, suddenly Trump was very caring.
“They are amazing people and the spread of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape, or form. They’re working closely with us to get rid of it. We will prevail together. It’s very important.”
Maybe it was all the cherry blossoms in Washington that weekend when few were keeping social distance? Maybe the cherry pollen got to him?
But there he was, the schoolyard bully standing up in front of the class, reading a script and trying to sound like he was sorry without saying he was sorry.
But it’s not enough. It’s not even an apology. He needs to read his words aloud again and again until we eradicate the virus he started— the virus of the Trump “Chinese Virus.”
“If they keep using these terms, the kids are going to pick it up,” Tony Du of Maryland told the New York Times. “They are going to call my 8-year-old-son a Chinese virus. It’s serious.”
This is how the bully virus spreads. Trump ought to know. His contrition is only beginning.
A few seconds from the podium doesn’t undo the hate he’s spread—not when America under lockdown is looking for a scapegoat.
Maybe that’s why Trump irrationally is now calling for America to be back in business by Easter. To fill the churches. What’s this? A deathbed conversion? Trump is hardly a religious man.
Forcing us to go back into church and to live life normally as the death toll tops 1,000 in America is more than a tad irresponsible.
Self-isolation is the best defense we’ve got during the virus. Don’t let your guard down. Basic Boxing. To fight a virus, the best thing to do is stay home. Watch the movie “Contagion.”
Stay positive. Go vegan even. Just don’t listen to Trump.
(Editor’s Note: President Donald Trump has extended the federal social distancing recommendation to April 30, 2020. A national stay-at-home directive has not been issued as of April 1, 2020.)
EMIL GUILLERMO is a veteran journalist and commentator. He was a member of the Honolulu Advertiser editorial board. Listen to him on Apple Podcasts. Twitter @emilamok.