Former US president Barack Obama has slammed Donald Trump’s use of the nickname “Kung Flu” to describe coronavirus, accusing his successor of promoting “anti-Asian sentiment” in the United States.
Obama, who has become increasingly outspoken with November’s presidential election drawing closer, took part in an invitation-only virtual fundraiser for the Democratic Party’s nominee, Joe Biden, last Thursday.
A transcript of Obama’s comments was leaked to the New York Times, which the publication covered as part of a much broader piece examining the former president’s gradual re-emergence from retirement.
“I don’t want a country in which the President of the United States is actively trying to promote anti-Asian sentiment, and thinks it’s funny. I don’t want that,” Obama said.
“That still shocks and pisses me off.”
Trump has taken a liking to the “Kung Flu” nickname in recent weeks, despite the protestations of critics who argue it’s a racist term.
“It’s a disease that without question has more names than any disease in history,” he said at his re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20.
“I can name Kung Flu, I can name 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is. Many call it a flu. What difference?”
He then doubled down on his use of the term a few days later, at another rally in Arizona.
“You ever notice – I said the other night, did anybody see my speech the other night, on Saturday night?”Trump asked the crowd of students.
“I said the other night, there’s never been anything with so many names. I could give you 19 or 20 names for that, right? It’s got all different names.
“Wuhan. Wuhan was catching on. Coronavirus, right?”
At that point, one very enthusiastic supporter in the crowd shouted “Kung Flu” loudly enough to cut through the general buzz of noise.
“Kung Flu, yeah. Kung Flu. Kung Flu,” Trump said.
The crowd roared appreciatively.
“Covid. Covid-19. Covid,” the President continued.
“I said, ‘What’s the 19?’ Covid-19, some people can’t explain what the 19. Give me – Covid-19, I said, ‘That’s an odd name.’ I could give you many, many names.”
For the record, the disease is named Covid-19 because it is a coronavirus which was identified in 2019.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany brushed off concerns about the nickname.
“He is linking it to its place of origin,” she told reporters.
“I think the media is trying to play games with the terminology of this virus, where the focus should be on the fact that China let this out of their country.”
Trump has also frequently referred to the coronavirus as either the “China virus” or “Wuhan virus”.
Back in March, ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked him why.
“There are reports of dozens of incidents of bias against Chinese Americans in this country. Your own aide, (Health Secretary Alex) Azar says he does not use this term. He says ethnicity does not cause the virus. Why do you keep using this? A lot of people think it’s racist,” Vega said.
“Because it comes from China,” Trump responded.
“It’s not racist at all. No, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
Obama has largely maintained a respectful silence since leaving office, mindful of the unwritten tradition that former US presidents avoid directly criticising their successors. But that has started to change in recent months.
In early May, Obama slammed the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, labelling it an “absolute chaotic disaster”.
Much like his criticism of Trump’s “Kung Flu” nickname, that comment came during a private discussion, as Obama sought to shore up support for Biden among people who had worked in his own administration.
But, as this week’s the New York Times’ profile put it, Democrats close to the former president “helpfully leaked” a recording of his remarks.
The Republican Party’s most senior member of Congress, Senate leader Mitch McConnell, issued a particularly scathing response to Obama.
“I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut,” McConnell said.
“You know, generally, former presidents just don’t do that.
“I remember President George W Bush and his father went right through eight years of Democratic administrations after they left office and kept their mouths shut, because they didn’t feel it was appropriate for former presidents to critique even the president of another party.
“I think it’s a bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you.
“You had your shot. You were there for eight years. I think the tradition that the Bushes set up, of not critiquing the president who comes after you, is a good tradition.”
At the start of June, Obama held a publicly broadcast town hall forum, during which he addressed the protests against police brutality and racial discrimination across the US.
“Part of what’s made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanised and activated and motivated,” he said.
“When sometimes I feel despair, I see what’s happening with young people across the country, and it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country’s going to get better.”
There was no direct criticism of Trump during that event.