Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Chatty Cathy was a doll popular in the late Fifties to the mid-Sixties. Its gimmick was a string coming out of the back that when pulled played a tiny record filled with banal phrases suitable for preteen girls. The old toy strikes me as a good metaphor for the progressive media, who whatever the event or crisis, repeat the same trite and juvenile responses like “racism” or “xenophobia.”
Take the latest pull of their string, the president and some of his administration calling the coronavirus the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus,” or referring in any way to China as ground-zero of the pandemic. According to CNN’s Chatty Cathy in Chief, Jim Acosta (pictured above), such statements are “xenophobic” because they “stigmatize” all ethnic Chinese, even Americans of Chinese descent, most of whom have little or nothing in common with Chinese nationals other than superficial physical characteristics or surnames.
We all know this complaint is ridiculous and just another way to politicize the outbreak into a stick for beating the president and his supporters. Many saner commentators have reminded us that diseases are frequently identified by the country or region where they first emerge. Sometimes these names do reflect one country’s bigoted views of a rival country, the way Brits called syphilis the “French Disease,” and the French called it the “English disease.” But those insults were untrue, since syphilis most likely came from the New World and was first brought to Europe by Italians who sailed with Columbus. A term like “Wuhan virus” simply states an obvious fact.
And don’t forget: The Chinese government has been peddling the big lie that the U.S. army during a U.S. Army personnel visit to Wuhan in October of last year. As even the New York Times has reported, there is no evidence for such a claim, but plenty of reasons why the Chinese regime would try to make it. China’s head honcho Xi Jinping has been coming under fire both globally and at home over his handling of the virus. More important, China’s secrecy about the outbreak, silencing or detaining doctors trying to tell the truth, and refusing help from the World Health Organization and our CDC are embarrassing signs of thuggish incompetence on the part of an autocratic government that claims to be a modern global power equal to the U.S. As the old saying goes, for autocrats and tyrants, “When all else fails, blame the Americans.”
Worse, as Hot Air’s John Sexton points out, the American left’s criticism of pointing out the obvious fact of the virus’s origins is aiding and abetting the Chinese government’s big lie that it was in fact the United States that set off the virus. Sexton singles out Jonathon Chait, who accuses “conservative media” as being obsessed with “revenge” against China for the outbreak, and so calling the virus “Wuhan” or “Chinese” must be an expression of irrational bigotry, with no policy implications. Progressives, the self-proclaimed rational “brights,” don’t care where the virus started, but are concerned about the “global pandemic, economic and culture fallout, and federal government dysfunction.”
Sexton makes the salient point of all this rhodomontade:
It would be fine to not care where the virus started if China wasn’t spreading a lie that it started here. But since they are doing that, it would be great if a few people on the left, and in the media, would help set the record straight. Conservatives should not be under attack from the left for speaking the truth in the face of a communist propaganda campaign.
Unfortunately, finding “a few people on the left” to “set the record straight” about our media’s aiding and abetting China’s propaganda is a forlorn hope. Patriotic loyalty is one of the left’s most despised characteristics of the “deplorables” and “bitter clingers.” And hating America is part of the left’s ideological DNA.
Even before the rise of socialism, European intellectuals and elites despised America, creating the model for Americans who fancied themselves cosmopolitan sophisticates. As Andrei Markovits writes in his book Uncouth Nation, they contrasted America’s “materialism, vulgarity, and shallowness” with Europe’s “idealism, nobility, and depth.” Moreover, the European elite’s love of political order imposed from above found America’s raucous, egalitarian democracy disturbing. For German poet Heinrich Heine, the U.S. was a “monstrous prison of freedom . . . where the most repulsive of all tyrants, the populace, hold vulgar sway.” As many a European visitor to the U.S. complained, America was the land of spittoons, binge-drinking, braggadocio, crude manners, and vulgar oaths, with no respect for haughty politesse of their self-proclaimed European betters.
For American elites who aped Europe’s social shibboleths, then, their country was one to be admired only insofar as it followed Europe’s intellectual fads. And as we see with our elites today, they cultivated a fashionable distance from the rubes and hicks who tear up during the national anthem and love slogans like “Make America Great Again.” Patriotism is a sign of unseemly xenophobic and fascistic impulses festering among the badly educated low-brow masses.
Building on this long European cultural disdain, the spread of communism that followed Karl Marx’s assault on middle-class virtues and culture, as well as the free-market capitalism that enriched them, deepened that disdain to hatred. As liberal democracy and capitalism, led by America, slowly spread despite global wars and depression to create the freest and richest peoples in human history, Marxism took on the bitter rage of a spurned suitor. In 1957 French social critic Raymond Aron identified this source of the leftist elite’s scorn of America:
The European left has a grudge against the United States, mainly because the latter has succeeded by means which were not laid down in the revolutionary code. Prosperity, power, the tendency towards uniformity of economic conditions––These results have been achieved by private initiative, by competitions rather than State intervention, in other words by capitalism, which every well-brought up intellectual has been taught to despise.
So too the American progressives, whose reflexive contempt has been intensified by Donald Trump, with his full-throated patriotism and economic policies that have succeeded where the dirigiste ones of the cosmopolitan Barack Obama failed.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the Chatty Cathy media, with a few exceptions, would be eager to carry propaganda water for the Chinese in the current crisis. Or side with the genocidal regime in Iran by decrying Trump’s withdrawal from the appeasing nuclear deal, and a few months ago aping the mullahs’ line that killing Qassem Soleimani, the terrorist killer of Americans, was some kind of war crime. Such opinions on the left are as banal as the phrases uttered by Chatty Cathy.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. Chait’s claim that holding China responsible for the outbreak serves America’s endemic xenophobia is not just contrary to the facts. This outbreak could’ve been mitigated early on if the totalitarian regime had not lied and tried to cover it up. The larger point of exposing China’s culpability for the outbreak is to remind us that it is a bad international actor and America’s most dangerous rival, one that exploits and games the globalist organizations like the World Trading Organization, whose rules China serially violates.
Thus Chait’s claim that calling China out and “the right’s China obsession . . . lacks any policy implications” is wrong. The crisis and China’s role in worsening it starkly reminds us of how feckless the U.S. “rule-based international order” apostles have been in letting China join the WTO, and then ignoring China’s violations of its rules. Even worse, we have allowed so much of our manufacturing, especially of critical products like pharmaceuticals, be controlled by the communist regime that seeks to supplant us. Lured by cheap labor and a massive base of possible consumers, too many American businesses have allowed critical expertise and technologies to be plundered by China.
The result is China now has its fingers around our nation’s throat, and just last week China’s state-run media agency threatened to give it a squeeze:
“If China retaliates against the United States at this time, in addition to announcing a travel ban on the United States, it will also announce strategic control over medical products and ban exports to the United States. Then the United States will be caught in the ocean of new coronaviruses,” the article said. “Also according to the US CDC officials, most of the drugs in the United States are imported . . . If China banned exports, the United States will fall into the hell of a new coronavirus pneumonia epidemic.”
There are plenty of “policy implications,” then, of confronting China. As the president has already made clear, correcting the unfair trade practices and theft of our intellectual property is one. The coronavirus should make us focus on another: the manufacturing of critical pharmaceuticals and other health-care products like protective masks must be brought back to the U.S., or at least restricted to countries that are open and free and play by the rules.
We need to call out the progressive Chatty Cathys’ long history of disdain for America and its condemnations of phantom “racism” and “xenophobia,” especially when it serves an aggressive rival. The coronavirus crisis will eventually pass, but the dangers that an expansive, ruthless communist regime poses to our security and interests will only intensify unless we correct the short-sighted policies that have empowered and enriched our most dangerous geopolitical rival.
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