Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Monday, February 3

Feb 3: The Trump administration declares a public health emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak.  Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders appear to be the front runners for the Democratic Presidential nomination, after winning the Iowa caucus. It becomes clear that the Senate will not vote to impeach President Trump.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

The news trickles in like a buzzing gnat on a humid day. You can see the spring already starting to push through; it feels like it is coming early this year.

The death toll in China is now over 360, which is higher than SARS was in the 2002-2003 outbreak.[1] For a moment, I can imagine how angry and scared I might be if I lived anywhere near Wuhan. Evidently, last Friday, a doctor named Li Wenliang died of the virus after trying for weeks to warn people that something was happening, and then being censored by the Chinese government.

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These stories are profound reminders that the state has astonishing power, that under the weight of a powerful government, one can be made to apologize for one’s own death. As subjects of the state, one’s obligations are to follow the rules, keep quiet, and avoid rumormongering—these behaviors are often more important than doing the right thing, whistleblowing, and creating disorder. This happened in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and in the United States during the Red Scare of the 1950s. No ideology is immune from the urge to put law and order before humanity and civil rights. The more dogmatic the ideology, the more susceptible the system becomes. 

The story of Li Wenliang also stands as a reminder of just how important memory is. The Czech writer, Milan Kundera, wrote that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” When the Chinese people agree not to forget Dr. Li Wenliang, they are engaging in an act of resistance. By remembering, they refuse to relinquish the power of the past to the state. They can fight quietly to remember things as they were, as opposed to remembering a past that has been constructed for them in order to defend the status quo.

This fight is raging here, in the United States, as well. We live in a world where we are told that all we need to do is “Make America Great Again.” This phrase requires that we buy-in to a constructed vision of the past as once great and bucolic, filled with white picket fences,  and friendly neighborhood policemen who cared about everyone in the community. And yet, the reality is that for big portions of our population, America has never been great; it has been a place of exploitation and suffering, of police violence, sexism and racism, and those people, understandably, do not want to go back. Not to state the obvious, but “Make America Great Again” means, “Make America Great [for white folks] Again.” It is a conjuring of a utopian American past that prioritizes a white vision of law and order, even if it means disregarding the rights of non-white populations.


[1] Lily Kuo, “Coronavirus: Death Toll Passes Sars Virus as Dozens More Die in Wuhan,” The Guardian, February 3, 2020, sec. World news, 



*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Hussain, “Fear of coronavirus fuels racist sentiment targeting Asians,” LA Times, 02-03-2020.

CDC, Transcript for CDC Telebriefing: CDC Update on Novel Coronavirus, 02-03-2020.

Busby and Tanberk, “FCC Underestimates Americans Unserved by Broadband Internet by 50%,”, 02-03-2020.

Kuo, “Coronavirus: death toll passes Sars virus as dozens more die in Wuhan,” The Guardian, 02-03-2020.

National Institute of Health, “Experimental HIV Vaccine Regimen Ineffective in Preventing HIV |,” News-Events, 02-03-2020,

Transcripts and Speeches

Ji Xinping, Speech at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Part of China (CPC) Central Committee when studying the response to the new coronavirus pneumonia 

“After the outbreak of the new coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, on January 7, when I chaired the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, I put forward requirements for the prevention and control of the new coronavirus pneumonia. On January 20, I specifically issued instructions on the prevention and control of the epidemic, pointing out that the epidemic must be highly valued, and the prevention and control work must be done to the fullest. It requires party committees and governments at all levels and relevant departments to put the safety and health of the people first. Take effective measures to resolutely curb the spread of the epidemic. On January 22, in view of the rapid spread of the epidemic and the serious challenges facing prevention and control, I specifically requested Hubei Province to implement comprehensive and strict control of the outflow of personnel. On the first day of the first month, I once again chaired a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee to conduct re-research, redeployment, and mobilization of epidemic prevention and control, especially patient treatment, and decided to set up a central leading group for epidemic response.” –

求是网- 思想建党理论强党

Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.