Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang believes discrimination against Asian Americans in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak could emerge as a key issue facing President Donald Trump as he faces re-election.
“It’s heartbreaking what's happening to Asian Americans around the country. To me, this is one of the pivotal issues for Trump,” Yang told Yahoo Finance’s “On The Move” on Wednesday.
Trump, Republican lawmakers and conservative media previously suggested an association between the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China to Americans of Asian descent, who have been on the receiving end of racist attacks. Trump has repeatedly referred to the illness as the “Chinese virus,” though he said last month that he would stop doing so.
“It’s not just wrong and evil to characterize this virus in racial terms,” Yang told Yahoo Finance. “It's also going to be a key factor in whether he’s successful in getting re-elected by making the case to the American people that this was somehow a foreign effort as opposed to a phenomenon that frankly experts have been warning about for years ahead of time.”
The Trump administration has faced criticism for its slow response to the outbreak, despite placing restrictions on travel to and from China on February 2. The administration did not announce its 15-day “stop the spread” plan until mid-March, and states say they still face a shortage of diagnostic tests.
“If he can succeed in framing the coronavirus as the China virus and a foreign threat, it distracts from his incompetent leadership that led us to lose two crucial months of contact tracing and isolating patients that would have saved lives, and in all likelihood would have mitigated some of this economic carnage that we're now living,” Yang told Yahoo Finance, a day before new data showed that another 4.427 million Americans had filed for unemployment for the week ending April 18.
‘Worse than 9/11’ for Asian businesses
The ability for the administration to stoke fears among the American populous may help Trump’s cause come November, Yang said. Stop AAPI Hate, which allows Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to self-report hate crimes and harassment, received 1,135 reports between March 19 and April 3. An FBI analysis in late March warned of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans with the spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to individual attacks, Chinese restaurant closures have far outpaced the rest of the takeout and delivery friendly industry. Sixty-two percent of Chinese food restaurants in the U.S. had to shut down their operations in the second week of April, according to a report from transaction data service Womply.
“From every indication, everyone that went through SARS that we have interviewed said this is far worse,” Chinatown Partnership’s Director Wellington Chen told Yahoo Finance last month, referring to a separate coronavirus that also originated in China in 2002. “Some even quote this is worse than 9/11. Because after 9/11, you still eat. Now, they are afraid to come and eat.”
Yang, who is Taiwanese-American, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, urging Asian Americans to “embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before” because “saying ‘Don’t be racist toward Asians’ won’t work.” Yang subsequently faced backlash for his comments, with critics pointing out the absurdity of having to “prove” patriotism to harassers. He then tried to clarify his comments in an interview with the global Asian news site NextShark.
“I realize that the op-ed fell short. I did not mean to suggest that we as Asian Americans needed to do anything more to prove that we are Americans. We’ve been here, we belong here and will continue to be part of the fabric of America,” he said in the interview.
Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s west coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.