Respectable Racism: The “War With China ” Edition

Like all elite-driven xenophobic campaigns, this “China did it” propaganda wave displaces blame for domestic political problems onto an inscrutable, foreign enemy and empowers the status quo.

These nasty Chinese Lilliputians are killing the noble American Giant! (Source: “Nativism, Then and Now”)

Even before we were all told to quarantine, it was already clear that a bipartisan campaign to label COVID-19 a foreign virus and blame it on China was already mainstream credibility. I wrote a bit about it here on Immigrants as a Weapon more than a month ago.

Well, that mainstream credibility moment has finally arrived. Today, the “China did it” narrative is being projectile vomited with a force and credibility like never before. This bile takes different forms, tailored to particular audience and market segments. We got everything from spy fed talk about Chinese bioweapons to Zoom being a Chinese plot to longwinded freak-outs about “Chinese agents” using the virus to destabilize American democracy from within — just like Russia was doing not so long ago! And then, of course, you have auxiliary freak-outs about how Russia actually set the stage for this catastrophe by meddling in…science. Science!

Whatever the particular theory, this stuff spans all political spectrums and channels: from Fox News to the New York Times to Barack Obama and senile Joe Biden to the prog-liberal New Republic to the courageous hackpack of Pierre Omidyar’s The Intercept. Even the woke scolds of the academic-online left are in on this.

And this is just a tiny sample. Looking at Max Blumenthal and Ajit Singh’s reporting on the evolution of the Chinese bioweapon theory, it’s safe to say that the “China did it” campaign has finally reached mainstream consensus. And we’re not even two months into the quarantine! So trust me, it’s only gonna get worse.

I’ve written quite a bit about how our society loves blaming foreigners for American domestic political problems — the liberals do this as much as the right. It happened after Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 and it’s happening once again with COVID-19 — on what will probably an even great scale.

The virus has revealed the total hollowness of our oligarchic society. Other than bailing out the ruling class, our corrupt political class and their political institutions have failed us spectacularly on every level — from the federal government down to the local level. We’re looking at continued lockdowns with no testing, no tracing, no economic relief for the millions out of the jobs, no help of any kind. Out here in LA, the city’s neoliberal government won’t do anything — it won’t even pass an eviction moratorium. In New York, the place we just left, the grossly privileged second-generation governor is telling people who lost their jobs because of a government quarantine order to go out and get a job. “It’s that simple, bums! Get a job or starve!”

In cities all across America, revenues have been built on taxing consumption and tourism, while leaving our oligarchs untouched. So budgets are gonna fall through the floor, and there is already wide talk about imposing austerity on a local level. Combine that with historic unemployment and mass business failures, it’s gonna be fucking ugly.

Like all pathogens, COVID-19 does not care about borders or nationalities. It might have come from abroad, but the havoc it’s causing in America is the result of our domestic politics: a degenerate bipartisan elite that has presided over stunning levels of national decline and degradation, and which has outsourced all political power to private, concentrated capital. COVID-19 is like a tracer chemical injected into our body politic, allowing us to see that process clearly.

And that’s why this “China did it” propaganda wave is so useful. Like all elite-driven xenophobic campaigns, it displaces the blame for domestic political problems onto an inscrutable, foreign enemy. This is what the cynical assholes who rule us want — want and desperately need. They need to focus our attention away from their own failure.

For decades, America’s corporate elite has outsourced their country’s production capacity to China, very consciously destroying America’s industrial base and its well-paying jobs, and decimating the last bits of this country’s labor power. These people have treated America as little more than a colony to plunder. Now, suddenly, it’s the Chinese who are root of all of America’s problems.

What makes this anti-China campaign so dangerous is that it stands at the confluence of a lot of powerful nationalist and imperialist elements in our society — including our privatized security apparatus. And all it can do is lead to more war, more empire, more racism and bigotry, and shittier politics. Even before the lockdown hit and isolated everyone, it had already triggered a wave of attacks against Chinese-Americans and anyone perceived as “Chinese.” Those will only get worse. It’s dangerous as hell.

I want to write more about this anti-China campaign soon. But for now I’d like to resurface up a couple of things I wrote that directly touch on this topic.

I wrote them a while ago — even before I launched Immigrants as a Weapon — in response to the Russiagate hysteria that had gripped American since 2016. I explored the grossly racist projections of that very liberal campaign — a campaign that sought to blame America’s domestic political problems on a foreign, inscrutable enemy that was invisibly infiltrating and infecting American society. Russiagate was aimed at “Russia” and “the Russians” — including at people like me and my family and friends. But it is directly relevant to the anti-China hysteria today.

Check them out:

  1. Respectable Racism — “This bigotry isn’t coming from the ‘lower-classes’ that liberals love to mock so much, but from very top — the crème de la crème of our media and political class.”

  2. Russiagate: A coming of age moment for Soviet immigrants — “We never knew what it was like to have the country’s media and political class brand people like us a possible threat.”

  3. Court Russians and Soviet Emigres — “They escaped state-backed antisemitism and bigotry, yet they now pump out stories that reproduce the same kind of deadly xenophobic fairytales that have long been leveled at Jews.”

  4. RussiaGate wasn’t a media “failure,” it was a success — “If you look at it dispassionately — as if you were analyzing the politics of someplace far away like, say, late Romanov Russia — it’s easy to see how RussiaGate has been a success.”

Will be back soon.

—Yasha Levine


Sign up for Immigrants as a WeaponCheck out this introductory letter…and then cruise on over to the archive.