Yesterday on this blog we made note of the unhelpful antics of Jerry Falwell Jr., who has been downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus and spreading wild tales about it being a North Korean bioweapon.

This type of talk has consequences. A recent poll shows a stark difference between the political parties, with a majority of Republicans saying that the threat of the virus is overblown. (President Donald Trump, who a few weeks ago dismissed fears of coronavirus as a “hoax” finally seems to be taking matters more seriously, so those views may change.)

It’s important to point out that not all evangelicals are lining up behind Falwell. Some are challenging the president’s reckless rhetoric. One of the most prominent is Eugene Cho, who until recently was the pastor of a large evangelical church in Seattle.

As the effects of coronavirus (also known as covid-19) become undeniable, Trump and his Fox News factotums have shifted gears. They now admit that covid-19 is a threat, but they also insist on calling it the “Chinese virus.”

This is yet another of Trump’s not-so-subtle dog whistles to rile up the racist elements of this base. And, like Falwell’s daft comments, it’s not helpful. We’ve already seen reports of attacks on Asians, who, some people falsely assume, brought the virus to America.

Coronavirus did originate in the Wuhan area of China. But despite conspiracy theories circulating on the right, it was not created in a laboratory and had a natural evolution.

As Cho noted, calling covid-19 a “Chinese” virus “only instigates blame, racism, and hatred against Asians – here and abroad. We need leadership that speaks clearly against racism; Leadership that brings the nation and world together. Not further divides.”

Cho’s right. Asian Americans are suffering the effects of the pandemic alongside everyone else. No American in his/her right mind wanted this outbreak to happen.

We can get through the next few weeks and months – but only if we work together. Unfortunately, Trump is not well positioned to create that kind of unity. His history in this area is not good. This is the man, after all, who stirred up fears of Muslims while on the campaign trail in 2016 and who has since instituted an ineffective and discriminatory Muslim Ban.

There is a better way: Stop scapegoating and fear-mongering. The first step is to realize that words matter – even what we call this virus.