U.S. pundits and politicians have with gusto taken to dusting off an old bogeyman – “evil communism” – in reference to China over the Covid-19 pandemic. Such retrograde rhetoric shows how politically bankrupt Washington is.
Leading the charge is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who hardly ever now refers to China simply as “China” in media interviews. He continually and feverishly equates the nation with the “Chinese Communist Party”. In recent weeks, going by the number of times the word “communist” has been heard across U.S. media one would be forgiven for thinking that we have been transported back to the Red Baiting days of the Cold War ca. 1950-60.
Fox News, the pro-Trump, rightwing Murdoch-owned channel, is the premier platform for this China bashing. Its hosts and guests are painting “communist China” as the “evil of our time”. Pompeo and other obsessed anti-China hawks like Senators Lyndsey Graham, Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, or Trump aides like Peter Navarro and former aide Steve Bannon, are given free rein to spout rhetorical venom demonizing China. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have unleashed pent-up hostility that was already lurking in Washington.
It’s like watching a political parody of the sci-fi movie ‘Back to the Future’. Though the present real-life rendition is far from funny. The Cold War reboot against China is careening in a dreadful direction towards open conflict.
It seems obvious what is happening. President Donald Trump and his administration are scapegoating China for the social and economic disaster that the U.S. has incurred from the Covid-19 pandemic. With more than 63,000 American deaths in a matter of two months, over a million people infected – a third of the world’s total – and at least 30 million unemployed, the Trump administration is seeking to blame China rather than be held to account for its own failings and gross incompetence.
This week President Trump is pushing even harder on accusations that China is responsible for the disaster. He is trying to line up a legal case to make China pay enormous reparations, perhaps trillions of dollars. To this end, Trump is touting a conspiracy that the novel coronavirus which causes the deadly Covid-19 disease was released from a laboratory in Wuhan, near the city where the outbreak first emerged in December. Trump assured U.S. media that he has seen evidence to back up his charges, but he refuses to provide details. There are now reports that his administration is pressuring U.S. intelligence agencies to find a link between the virus and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Echoes there of the 2003 Iraq War and the non-existent WMD farce.)
What’s even more incendiary is that Trump is insinuating that the Chinese government deliberately spread the disease as a political weapon to undermine his presidency. He claimed this week that China favors Democrat presidential contender Joe Biden and that Beijing “will do anything” to thwart Trump’s re-election in November.
This is insane politics. For, make no mistake, Trump is on a cynical, perilous path towards war with China. The accusations against China are preposterous. His conspiracy theory has been debunked by international scientific assessment. The virus was an unfortunate natural accident that happened to emerge in China. But if somehow U.S. intelligence implicates Chinese responsibility, as Trump is gunning for, then the agenda for “punishing” Beijing will become implacable. China, which claims it is a victim of disinformation, will not tolerate the audacious baseless attack on its vital interests.
In order to pursue the “blame China” agenda, Trump and his political and media acolytes are logic-bound to demonize China. This would explain the dredging up of Cold War rhetoric denouncing China as a “communist evil”. Trump is betting on whipping up nationalism and anti-China xenophobia among Americans who will, it is calculated, blame a “foreign enemy” instead of taking a hard look at the internal failings of the U.S. government, its capitalist economy and society.
The same devious dynamics pretty much applied to the original Cold War. Back then it was the Soviet Union which was the bogeyman to distract from America’s intrinsic problems of poverty, racism and imperialist wars. There is still a toxic linger of that legacy as seen in the whole nonsensical “Russiagate” hysteria claiming that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections to elect Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly scoffed at those claims, and rightly so, as “fake news” and a “hoax” concocted by domestic political enemies. Ironically, however, Trump is now using the very same grotesque gas-lighting tactics on the American public against China for his own ends.
The use of Cold War-type propaganda and psychological operations – demonization, baiting and conflict – demonstrates how bankrupt American politics is. It was bankrupt then as it is bankrupt now. But while the rest of the world has moved on, the U.S. political system is stuck deep in the past. That’s why it can’t deal with present challenges and why, ultimately, it is doomed to failure. If that is, it doesn’t end up starting a catastrophic war to fail us all.