Historians on “Foreign Viruses”

 

immigrants Italian

In Thursday night’s address to the nation, Donald Trump said the coronavirus was a “foreign virus.” CNN asked several historians to reflect historically on this claim.  Here is a taste of Catherine Choicet’s piece:

For immigration historians and other scholars, the way US President Donald Trump is describing the coronavirus pandemic has a familiar ring.

“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump said in an Oval Office address Wednesday night. “I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”

As soon as Trump’s words describing a “foreign virus” hit the airwaves, Nükhet Varlik knew she’d heard them before.

“We’ve had plenty of examples of this in the past. It’s mindblowing that this still continues,” said Varlik, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and at the University of South Carolina.

“It opens up the ways of thinking about disease in dangerous ways,” she said. “Once you open that door…historically we have examples, we know where it goes. And we don’t want to go there. I find it extremely dangerous.”

It’s the latest chapter in a story that historians see as centuries in the making. From the plague to SARS, whenever an outbreak spread, racism and xenophobia weren’t far behind.

Here’s what scholars told CNN about some of history’s shameful episodes, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Read the rest here.