An infected president, a disease of the heart, an imperiled republic

It’s a supreme irony that President Trump has chosen to call Covid-19 “the China virus”.

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It’s the China virus. It’s not the coronavirus. Corona sounds like a place in Italy, a beautiful place. It’s corona? No. It’s the China virus. They don’t want to say it. You know, the radical left, they don’t want to say. . .

~Donald Trump, Pittsburgh, September 22, 2020

Communism is a disease of the heart, the Japanese are but a disease of the skin. 

~Chiang Kai-shek, Chinese Nationalist leader (1928-1975)

Covid-19 is not a disease of the skin. Despite this sick President’s scurrilous attempts to trivialize and politicize it—to blame “the China virus” on “the radical left”—the novel coronavirus is both terrifying and terrorizing. It’s not a conspiracy or theory or conspiracy theory. It is real. 

It does not care if you are conservative or liberal. Or, for that matter, if your are a white supremacist.

It does not recognize national borders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), far more of us (see below) have died of Covid-19 than Chinese (4,746 deaths) or Indians (72,049 deaths). Even allowing for possible under-reporting, it’s worth noting that China and India are the two most populous nations on the planet with a combined population of 2.7 billion. The U.S. has a fraction of the total population (330.4 million) and nearly three times more reported deaths.  

It does not spare the rich and powerful. Not even the highest ranking officials in Washington. Most notably, the one who returned to the White House from Walter Reed Military Medical Center and immediately removed his mask. The one who tweeted: 

Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

Never mind that the very same “Covid” has infected nearly 36 million people globally, caused the deaths of 211,000 Americans, and has wrecked the lives of millions more in countless ways. Donald Trump who gets the best care taxpayers’ money can buy clearly  doesn’t give a damn about the health of the country or the American people.  

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When the leader of China’s KMT Nationalist party, Chiang Kai-shek, sought to unify a deeply divided and debilitated China between the two world wars, his main adversaries were the Communists under Mao Zedong and Japan under an ultra-nationalist regime similar to dirigisme and fascism in Europe. 

It was in this historical context that Chiang drew the now-famous distinction between a disease of the heart and one of the skin. What Chiang meant was that unlike the threat from Japan, Communism was internal. Like cancer, not like acne or eczema. The latter is a serious problem; the former is life-threatening. 

Chiang wanted to establish a republic. He believed that Communism was antithetical to that aim. He was right, of course, as soon became clear when Mao emerged victorious after WWII and established a brutal and bizarre totalitarian state. Mass persecution and blood purges followed in short order. Then came calamitous state-directed campaigns—the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

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Every honest, functioning adult knows this pandemic is a deadly disease that “can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences,” says cardiologist Harlan Krumholz of Yale University. “Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” 

In severe cases, Covid-19 leaves its victims gasping for breath. Not infrequently, afflicted patients often quite suddenly develop a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). “Commonly, these patients end up on ventilators. Many die.”

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Chiang Kai-shek during the interwar years was the leader of a nation in turmoil and a society at war with itself. He lost the struggle for control of mainland China in 1949. The rest is history—a tragic history of mindless mass executions, brutal repression, crushing press censorship, and self-destructive economic policies that left the nation in dire poverty. At the center of it all was a “cult of personality”—a ruthless ruler with a hideously outsized ego who would not listen to reason.

If that description sounds familiar, if it reminds the reader of an irrational captain at the helm of another ship of state sailing in troubled waters and in grave danger of capsizing, it’s not because history repeats itself. But at this perilous time in American history, it rhymes. And in so doing it rings out a clarion call—a dire warning—to all who are not deaf.

It’s a supreme irony that President Trump has chosen to call Covid-19 “the China virus”. He’s right to view the PRC under Xi Jingping as a rival, to be critical of Beijing’s unfair trade policies and practices

But China is a disease of the skin.  Donald Trump is a disease of the heart.   

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