White House photo, June 2019

We didn't notice because we finally stopped watching Donald Trump's daily coronavirus rallies, but the Dear Leader has apparently stopped talking about COVID-19 as the "Chinese Virus" in recent days, and other parts of the administration have gone back to calling the disease by its real name too. According to a report today from the Daily Beast, that change has nothing to do with any desire for medical accuracy, nor with any concern about threats to Asian-Americans from Trumpers who insist the outbreak must be called buy its real name: "Wuhan virus 'cause that's where it came from, it's not racist stupid." Nope, according to White House insiders, Trump had a phone call last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who deployed "one of the most effective diplomatic maneuvers of the current American era: aggressive flattery."

Gosh, there's an astonishing development nobody could have seen coming.

In a phone call to discuss the international health crisis last week, Xi stressed to Trump how decisive, strong, and successful he feels his U.S. counterpart's public-health and economic responses have been, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter said.

One unnamed "senior administration official," sounding a bit like Donald Trump describing how foreigners always took advantage of "weak" US leaders in the old days, said,

For a long time, the president has enjoyed an epic bromance with Xi [...] If I were them, I would be doing the same thing. Why wouldn't you try to leverage that relationship with a [U.S.] president who goes on TV so many times to say how great he thinks your guy [Xi] is.

The payoff seems to have been immediate, because Trump loves to be loved, is that so wrong? Especially if that love comes from an authoritarian strongman of the sort Trump wishes he could be. Trump went from "framing the pandemic as a war whose origins were in China" to considerably more accommodating positions.

But lately, he has softened his tone and adopted a more deferential stance toward Xi—whom he routinely calls his good "friend" and an "incredible guy"— going out of his way to compliment and excuse Beijing for its response to the virus, and to even publicly shrug off new reporting on China's disinformation apparatus in the midst of the pandemic.

In the past few days, Trump has also told multiple officials that Xi has assured him that the Chinese government wouldn't lie about the numbers of reported cases of coronavirus currently coming out of the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, two sources familiar with the comments said.

Hey, if a foreign leader tells him a thing, it must be true, unless it's one of our dumb allies. Incidentally, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Chinese authorities decided not to include over 1,500 people who were infected with coronavirus in their latest tally of cases, because they weren't having symptoms. Not to worry, say Chinese health officials, because those people and their "close contacts" still had to be quarantined for two weeks, although the Journal notes, "It couldn't be learned to what degree that was done." In any case, a top health official now say they'll start including asymptomatic cases in their totals going forward, trust them.

"It's OK if they aren't included in the tally of confirmed cases," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a state news magazine. "The key question is, have those people have been put under restriction."

We sure hope that doesn't give Trump any ideas about improving American COVID-19 stats, in case Diamond and Silk don't manage to convince enough Trump supporters the numbers are all fake anyway. Why not actually fake 'em?

The Daily Beast story also notes that China has been lobbying hard not only against the Trump administration's use of "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus," but has gone so far as to insist, through top disease experts, that there's not even any evidence the virus originated in Wuhan. As of yet, Trump hasn't said anything about Xi assuring him the virus came from Democrats in the Deep State, but give him time.

Just because we're sticklers for detail, we checked the invaluable Trump Twitter Archive, where a quick search found Trump's last tweeted mention of the "Chinese Virus" was on Sunday, March 22, which actually preceded Trump's tweet about his call with Xi four days later. (Maybe he'd been pre-flattered?) And wow, what kind words for the Chinese experience with the virus he had then.

And this seems notable: in the days leading up to the call, Trump's tweets and especially his retweets repeatedly pointed out that China couldn't be trusted, that Trump had wisely banned travel from China, and so on. But not a single unkind word about China after the phone call, at least not so far:

Trump's newfound regard for the great job China's doing seems to have been magically picked up on by others in his administration, too. Remember how Mike Pompeo blew up a G-7 meeting last week because no other country wanted to say "Wuhan virus"? Apparently, the State Department has changed its tune since Xi talked to Trump:

According to two senior Trump administration officials, the State Department has also toned down the tough talk on Beijing for not revealing its coronavirus case numbers sooner.

In recent cables, it appears the department is also no longer calling the virus the "Wuhan virus" and is instead referring to it as "COVID19" or simply "COVID." As one senior Trump official told The Daily Beast: "There's an understanding that the department—and the administration as a whole—is going to back away from that terminology."

Oh man, we're going to have to tear down all the "DEATH TO EAST-ASIA-VIRUS" banners and replace them with ones reading "WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH ITALY-VIRUS."

Programming note/reminder: Later this afternoon, we'll head over to invade The Slog's book club discussion of Albert Camus's The Plague.

[Daily Beast / WSJ]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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