Mar 31, 2020

Is China to blame for coronavirus?

Is China to blame for coronavirus?

Plus, a question about Andrew Cuomo.

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Today’s read: 7 minutes.

What should we make of China, will Cuomo run for president and a big issue with voting in November.

China’s President Xi Jinping meets Vladimir Putin. Photo: The Kremlin


CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo, brother of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

A reader note:

Yesterday, I wrote that the “president’s job is to tell his story, to boast about his accomplishments and share the narrative he wants to share." A reader wrote in to criticize this line:

I don't know whether you really believe this but I would have to vehemently disagree. First "tell[ing] his story" and "shar[ing] the narrative he wants to share" seem materially identical. Second, boasting about his accomplishments is not a good way to think about the president's job. It's not even a good way to think about the president's job in dealing with the media. And it's especially not a good way to think about the president's job in dealing with the media during a global pandemic.

I agree. This was sloppy writing and a poor way to contrast a reporter and president’s job. More accurately, I should have said this: a president or politician is expected to boast, brag or skew a story to make themselves look as good as possible. That’s what (almost) all politicians do. A reporter’s job is to correct the record and be fiercely critical of everything a politician or government says in order to get to the truth. I wholeheartedly agree the president’s real job is to lead, to be honest, to communicate to the American people and to find solutions to big problems.

Things that are not comforting.

This image that was apparently supposed to bring NYC together but really just gave all of us anxiety:

What D.C. is talking about.

China. Over the last few weeks, the debate about China’s role in the spread of coronavirus has grown. The U.S. and China’s relationship has been “deteriorating” as both sides claim the other is responsible for the outbreak of coronavirus. In mid-March, China expelled almost all American journalists from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. China defended the move by citing the expulsion of 60 Chinese reporters (working for propaganda outlets) from the states in early March. Beijing also justified forcing the reporters out by claiming there was a burgeoning ideological campaign by the U.S. to impose its values in China. Many conservatives, including President Trump, were calling the coronavirus the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus” for weeks. As finger-pointing at China has become more popular in the U.S., some high-profile Asian-Americans have said they’ve experienced discrimination here as a result. The debate over China’s outsized role in American life has now been thrust to center-stage as Americans fight over who is responsible, how well China is cleaning up the coronavirus mess and whether we can continue working with them as we have in the past.

What the left is saying.

Many pundits, activists and reporters on the left took major issue with Trump and his allies calling coronavirus the “China” or “Wuhan” virus. They called it racist and xenophobic, much like how they described Trump’s restrictions on travel from China. They also said it was drumming up anti-Asian sentiment across the U.S. Some also praised China for its response to the virus, noting that the total lockdown has apparently stopped the virus in its tracks and led to no new cases. Since the outbreak, China has been “working with others and acting like a global leader and we are not,” Dennis Ross wrote in The Washington Post. That’s a common refrain on the left, too: China is leading the world by helping other nations respond to the virus. “China’s ability to provide much-needed medical aid stood in contrast to the lack of help from Western nations struggling with the virus themselves,” Joe Penney said in The Intercept. It certainly hasn’t been all positive, though. In one of the most widely shared articles on China and coronavirus, Charles Dunst wrote in Slate that “China is not the hero of the pandemic.” He detailed how China is not actually donating supplies across the world, but charging for them, while it’s “Trump’s United States that has already promised to provide up to $100 million of aid to China and other countries affected by the pandemic.” Of many on the left, Dunst wrote:

“Although it’s understandable that American thinkers want to criticize Trump’s poor response to the crisis, this does not excuse their being duped into spreading outright falsehoods and gifting China’s appalling authoritarian regime—the same one that recently revoked press credentials for numerous American journalists—praise of which it is certainly not deserving.”

What the right is saying.

This should change everything. If the entire coronavirus scandal can lead to something positive, let it be a divorce from our reliance on China for everything. China continuously gets away with murder on the global stage in trade, domestically in its treatment of minorities, and once again with unleashing a pandemic on the world. It’s not racist to call a virus that comes from China the China virus any more than it’s racist to call the infamous flu from Spain the Spanish Flu (editor’s note: we don’t actually know the Spanish flu came from Spain). “The relationship with China cannot and should not go back to normal,” Shadi Hamid wrote in The Atlantic. “The world’s dependence on China should be responsibly reduced,” Michael Auslin wrote in RealClearPolitics. “Decades of open borders, unceasing intercontinental travel, study abroad, just-in-time inventory systems, and the like have created unexpected vulnerabilities in populations and economies thanks to unfettered openness.” Others drew clear lines on where our relationship can start and end. “It’s one thing to depend on China for cheap T-shirts and sneakers,” Marc Thiessen said in The Washington Post. “It’s another to depend on a brutal communist dictatorship for life-saving drugs and the communications infrastructure that will undergird the 21st-century economy.” China’s authoritarian communist regime lied about the outbreak, punished people who tried to alert the world and is now lying about how successfully it has beaten the virus. In the meantime, the left will resort to propping up China just to get in a few jabs against President Trump, who they hate more than actual authoritarian leaders.

My take.

I fall almost entirely on the side of the right on this issue. It’s not as if the left is only propping up China (a LOT of people on the left are criticizing China), but whenever I see some liberal on Twitter trying to dunk on Trump because “China’s coronavirus cases are fewer,” or because their “social distancing measures have been more successful,” I cringe. As we found out just this week, there’s plenty of evidence China is underreporting its deaths, underreporting its cases and not counting people who are asymptomatic. It’s also easy to execute social distancing guidelines when your citizens don’t have true freedom and it’s entirely clear that China covered up the outbreak, punished doctors who tried to warn the world, and is still disappearing doctors who are whistleblowing about what’s going on there. China is not a role model for how to handle the coronavirus. Chinese leaders are not preferable to Trump. And anytime you say so, it makes you seem completely ignorant to world politics, China’s history or the history of how this outbreak spread. This same government is currently imprisoning over a million Muslims in “re-education camps” and violently suppressing a free press, pro-Democracy activists and pretty much anyone who wants to speak critically about their leaders. Please. Stop.

And please also remember something else: the Chinese people are the heroes here, not the villains. Chinese journalists, Chinese doctors, Chinese professors and researchers and citizens all risked their lives (and some died) both fighting the coronavirus and trying to warn the rest of the world it was coming. That’s why calling it the “China virus” or speculating the virus came from “Chinese people eating bats” is so offensive and stupid. It’s also why the right’s perfectly good argument (China’s government is to blame) is being drowned out: many Trumpists and Trump supporters can’t seem to help themselves from childishly trying to “trigger” the left. We should all take effort to distinguish the Chinese government — an oppressive, horrific regime — and the Chinese people — billions of citizens who are innocent victims of this outbreak.

Fun, unsurprising fact given “My take” here: a reader from China sent me this image a few days ago. Tangle is actually blocked in China by “The Great Firewall of China,” which regulates and censors the internet for Chinese citizens. If you’re a reader from China, feel free to write in with some thoughts and I’ll share them tomorrow.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are a big part of Tangle. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. Give it a try!

Q: Is there any likelihood that we will see Andrew Cuomo in the running for president before this ends? Is it possible for him to still enter (assuming maybe Biden tanks along the way?).

- Johnelle, Ft. Collins, CO

Tangle: I’d say the odds are about one in a million. Relevantly, Chris Cuomo (the CNN anchor and Andrew Cuomo’s younger brother) interviewed Andrew on CNN last night and pressed him on rumors he might run.

“Let me ask you something. With all of this adulation that you’re getting for doing your job, are you thinking about running for president? Tell the audience,” Chris asked.

No, no” Governor Cuomo said.

Then the Cuomo brothers had a legendary television exchange, which is becoming a bit of a ritual of fighting on primetime TV between the two:

Chris Cuomo: No, you won’t answer?

Andrew Cuomo: No. I answered. The answer is no.

Chris Cuomo: No, you’re not thinking about it?

Andrew Cuomo: I answered the question, sometimes it’s one word. I said no.

Chris Cuomo: Have you thought about it?

Andrew Cuomo: No.

Chris Cuomo: Are you open to thinking about it?

Andrew Cuomo: No.

Chris Cuomo: Might you think about it at some point?

Andrew Cuomo: No.

Chris Cuomo: How can you know what you might think about at some point right now?

Andrew Cuomo: Because I know what I might think about and what I won’t think about. I won’t think about it. But you’re a great interviewer by the way.

Chris Cuomo: Appreciate it. Learned from the best.

So, to steal a word from Andrew Cuomo: no. I don’t think he’ll run for president. But I do think it’s worth noting how his popularity has risen on the left recently. Cuomo is enjoying lavish praise from previous detractors for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Despite my resistance to praise any politician, even the ones I like, I even participated in the heaping of support onto Cuomo. As a New Yorker, his voice has been calming, honest and clear. I’ve very much enjoyed watching his press conferences and rarely saw him being fact-checked for lying or corrected by reporters. He’s mostly shot straight on the situation and his predictions thus far have come to fruition.

Interestingly, Cuomo’s approval rating also skyrocketed about 30 points. Much has been made of Trump seeing a two or three-point bump, but as I’ve written here, that’s actually pretty modest for a leader during a time of crisis. Historically speaking, the fact Trump’s ratings haven’t jumped even more is surprising. Cuomo’s breakout looks a lot more like what typical leaders get when they are stepping up during a national crisis situation.

All that being said, if — and I stress the if here strongly — a situation arose where Biden and Sanders could no longer run for office, I’m sure Cuomo would be considered. He’s certainly enjoying some national love right now and I could see him doing well in a race against Trump. But I also found his response straightforward and honest when he was asked by his own brother: no. He’s not going to run.

A story that matters.

States across America are struggling to plan for how we’ll vote in November, Axios reports. As concerns rise that in-person elections won’t be possible come November 3rd, states across the U.S. are trying to figure out how to open up voting for people who need to stay home. But the cost of moving to a more open voting system could be $2 billion, and twelve states still don’t let all voters cast ballots by mail. Massachusetts is just one example of a state scrambling to change its constitution so more people can vote from home, but the state legislature may not have enough time to make such a change. Without big upgrades, voting could be a legitimately dangerous activity. Some folks may abstain for health reasons, others may miss deadlines to mail ballots in and legislators are becoming worried about how it could impact voter turnout. In the meantime, some states are being sued for dragging their feet on making changes. Click.


  • 50%. The increase in time U.S. children aged 6 to 12 years old are spending in front of screens while schools are closed nationally.
  • Two-thirds. The approximate fraction of Americans across the U.S. who have now been issued stay-at-home orders.
  • 54-32. Joe Biden’s lead over Bernie Sanders in a new HarrisX poll released yesterday.
  • 44%. The percentage of New Yorkers who approved of Andrew Cuomo in February.
  • 71%. The percentage of New Yorkers who approved of Andrew Cuomo in a newly released poll.
  • 1,500. The minimum number of people China said tested positive for coronavirus but were asymptomatic and excluded from previous positive test counts the country released.
  • $120 million. The amount of money the U.S. government allegedly spent on television and billboard ads in Afghanistan to promote American values that were never actually aired or built, according to a whistleblower.

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Have a nice day.

While the coronavirus quarantine has been almost entirely negative for humans, it’s actually having a positive impact on the environment. Italian citizens are reporting that fish are visible in Venice’s canals. NASA researchers are saying the air quality in major U.S. cities and above China is improving at a rapid pace. Emissions levels across the globe are plummetting. Some are now wondering aloud whether the coronavirus is Mother Nature’s way of getting some fresh air. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, the positive environmental impact might be it. Click.

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