Is “Wuhan virus” a racist term? As I write this, that utterly idiotic question is being debated on Twitter. Before a single case of the virus had even been reported in the United States, some in the media were stoking fear. The Global Health Security Index found late last year that the U.S. was the “best prepared” to deal with a pandemic, but you might already believe it is “Trump’s Chernobyl.” Then there are the pundits and journalists who can barely contain their glee at the potential market crash — which might help them win an election, but will cost jobs and deplete the retirement and college funds of millions Americans. It’s simply deranged.
Yet even if some are overreacting, and even if the United States is as prepared as it can be, and even if some Democrats are happy to fuel panic, the tone-deafness with which President Trump has handled the outbreak — sending out pictures of himself fiddling like Nero and downplaying concerns, even as tens of millions of older and immunocompromised Americans have serious worries about their welfare — is also dangerous. There is a vast space between panic-mongering and flippant dismissal, and it’s not very difficult to find that ground.