Mirroring Trump, Cornyn blames ‘cultural habits’ of Chinese people for coronavirus

by | Mar 18, 2020 | Coronavirus, Politics

In an interview with conservative radio host Joe Pags, Sen. John Cornyn appeared hellbent on blaming China and Chinese people for the U.S.’s weak pandemic response. 

When asked by the radio host if China’s closed society led to a lack of information about the virus before it was too late, Cornyn agreed and went on to blame Chinese people’s eating habits for the outbreak.

“The real reason why China is such a hotbed for these viruses, whether its SARS, or MERS or swine-flu or the coronavirus, is some of their cultural habits of eating things like bats, and snakes, and civets and so forth,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn later repeated the claims to reporters on Wednesday after being asked about the fact that President Trump called coronavirus the “Chinese virus” on Monday  — a remark largely criticized as racist and particularly dangerous during a pandemic that has seen widespread discrimination against Asian American. 

Cornyn’s comments are especially misleading when considering the most recent swine flu outbreak originated in Mexico, not China (with past outbreaks originating all over the world, including multiple times in the U.S.) and when considering MERS, which stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is almost exclusively found in the Arabian Peninsula, with zero cases being reported in China.

Additionally, an article by the Columbia Journalism Review published last month has already made short work of racist tropes like those deployed by Trump or Cornyn this week:

For news about the coronavirus, Maria Repnikova, a scholar of Chinese political communication at Georgia State University, has relied on reporting from Chinese media. A recent piece, in Caixin, charted the spread of the virus “without emotion,” she said. “The market was the first step, but then you saw, very quickly, the human-to-human transfer. It showed the market wasn’t even that important.” Huanan market was dirty, to be sure, but the problem wasn’t which meats were sold there. The real culprit, the Caixin article explained, was a lack of accessible information about the disease.

Mimicking Trump’s blame game

The change in language from both the Trump administration and Cornyn when referring to the virus stems from a larger shift by Republicans to blame China for America’s painfully slow pandemic response. 

“Mr. Trump and high-ranking administration officials have sought to pinpoint blame for the spread of the virus on China, and Beijing has responded in kind,” reported the New York Times on Wednesday. “The finger-pointing over which country has done less to contain the disease has caused tensions between the two countries almost daily.”

It’s likely Cornyn and Trump are blaming the pandemic on China because they fear the wrath of voters in November, including in Texas where both are currently underwater. After all, Trump has already called the virus a Democratic “hoax” and promised it would “disappear” exclusively for political reasons, something he is now denying

And while the U.S. is only weeks into a pandemic that has so far killed more than a hundred Americans and sent global markets tumbling, hopefully, voters will remember the record: that Trump, not China, disbanded the White House pandemic response team and then went onto responded to the outbreak with limited and disorganized testing, all while making false promises along the way.

Photo: Loren Elliott/Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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