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Cornered By Coronavirus Criticism, Trump Will Turn to Xenophobia

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“He’s Going There. Don’t Let Him”

The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Journalist Ezra Klein tweeted late last night, ‘The pivot Trump is about to make from downplaying the coronavirus to using it to justify xenophobia and scapegoating is going to be very grim.’

Sure enough, this morning, President Trump tweeted, ‘The BEST decision made was the toughest of them all – which saved many lives. Our VERY early decision to stop travel to and from certain parts of the world!’ At a recent rally in South Carolina, he said: ‘Whether it is the virus that we’re talking about or many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans. Now, you see it with the coronavirus. You see it. You see it with the coronavirus.’ At the recent CPAC conference – the one in which a participant was later found to have been carrying the coronavirus – DHS’s Ken Cuccinelli said that defending the southern border is a key part of protecting the United States from the coronavirus.

He’s going there. Don’t let him.

With Trump feeling increasingly cornered and defensive over his mishandling of the coronavirus, get ready for him to lash out against his favorite scapegoats with even greater frequency, intensity and hostility. While it’s inevitable that the Trump administration will escalate their xenophobia and seek to shift blame and focus to immigrants, it’s not inevitable that the media and other observers have to follow him down the xenophobic rabbit hole and shift the focus away from where it should remain – the health of us all.

We who work on immigration policy know intimately how Trump exploits the fear of ‘the other’ to advance his political goals. As a Washington Post editorial notes, Trump’s asylum and border policies, especially MPP, have created a ‘full-blown humanitarian and security crisis … of its own making.’ Just last week, he deployed more troops to the border. Before that, he deployed heavily-armed Border Patrol tactical units to urban areas. We view all these moves as setting the stage for a full-out PR attack and actual assault on immigrants and asylum-seekers to escalate his divide-and-distract ‘blame the immigrants’ go-to strategy.

Notably, while some are calling the coronavirus the first instance of Trump facing an external crisis not of his own making, we think the ongoing calamity facing many in Puerto Rico – in large part attributable to the federal government’s insufficient and callous disaster response leading to thousands of American deaths – deserves mention as a disturbing past reminder of this administration’s inability to address a crisis forthrightly, in large part because the victims were Latinos who didn’t vote for him and didn’t suck up to him.

With our nation and the world in the midst of a burgeoning pandemic, we need strong leadership and smart decisions anchored in accurate scientific data, strong coordination between health officials and government at all levels and the general public, and clear communications that focus on the health of all of our families. Unfortunately, President Trump disdains science, ignores experts, knows nothing of unity, only cares about his voters and his reelection, and specializes in blame-shifting and escalating xenophobia.