There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, the potentially fatal disease caused by the novel coronavirus. On the bright side, there are several treatments that are already undergoing trials—many of them existing drugs that are being combined and repurposed, in the hopes of reducing the disease’s severity, or even safeguarding against its spread. Similarly, there is no vaccine for John Cornyn’s aggressive foot-in-mouth disease, which flared up with a mildly regrettable dad joke about drinking a Corona beer before progressing rapidly into full-blown xenophobia in just a matter of days, when he blamed the disease on debunked, racist myths about people eating bats. But in the absence of an antidote, he’s also testing various methods to just sort of plaster over it and carry on.
Granted, Cornyn could just apologize for being insensitive. But to echo a common refrain from President Donald Trump and his loyalists like Cornyn, perhaps “the cure is worse than the disease.” Maybe Cornyn worries that any injection of common decency now would only leave him vulnerable to future attacks of conscience. So, he’s undertaken his own regimen of doubling down, deflection, and divisiveness, hoping the compound will be enough to ameliorate the damage.
Cornyn’s been tweeting a lot—which, you know, fair enough. With a lot of us under the kind of citywide shelter-in-place orders that Cornyn was mocking barely two weeks ago, many of us have begun to howl with increasing regularity into the abyss of social media. But Cornyn has tweeted or retweeted from his account more than 250 times in the seven days since his comments on China went viral. This is a staggering average of at least 35 tweets per day. Even Chrissy Teigen only manages about 10 to 20. Thirty-five tweets in a day is within spitting distance of an account I follow called Simpsons Screens, which is a bot that automatically posts a random Simpsons screenshot every half hour. And it doesn’t even have to work around appearances on Fox and Friends.
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Much of Cornyn’s daily, timeline-choking barrage has been the usual mix of “we’re all in this together” bromides: praising local volunteer work, sharing hand-washing infographics, and the like. But, in addition to this old trick of pushing bad tweets down your timeline with innocuous filler, Cornyn has also been working in some not-so-subtle defenses of the stuff he’s seemingly trying to paper over. He’s been sharing every single article criticizing China he can find. He’s tried repositioning himself as a tireless first responder, one who’s even “working through the weekend.” And he’s taken up a familiar game of blame-shifting, accusing Democrats of using the crisis to “further their ideological agenda” while crying, “Don’t they realize this is a national emergency?”
Cornyn would probably seem a little more sincere had he not spent the intervening weeks while this “national emergency” was unfolding more or less laughing it off, cracking bad puns and passable beers. And it would definitely shore up Cornyn’s argument that he’s focused on helping people if he weren’t spending most of his time playing the usual partisan politics. Cornyn even rolled out a truly breathtaking defense that the coronavirus crisis only worsened because Trump “did lose ‘precious weeks’ forced to defend himself against bogus impeachment charges.” As many have pointed out to Cornyn, Trump was acquitted of those charges on February 5, in a trial he’d refused to participate in, then spent the next month downplaying coronavirus fears as a “hoax,” holding massive campaign rallies, throwing parties that became viral hot spots, and playing golf. Oh, but what precious weeks those were for us all, when America was so adorably naive!
But perhaps more than anything, Cornyn’s admirably quixotic attempt to just tweet through it can be summed up in just three words. That was the whole of Cornyn’s particularly childish response to Senator Chuck Schumer, who outlined why he voted against a GOP-led relief bill that would have given billions to big corporations with zero government oversight, and no binding agreement to protect jobs or wages:
Blah blah blah https://t.co/zkJ1fsKMGc
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) March 23, 2020
Faced with Schumer’s charge that any relief bill needs to do more to help workers instead of corporations, guarantee oversight before handing over billions to CEOs, and provide assistance to our already dangerously overloaded health care system, Cornyn could only muster a bored, petulant “Blah blah blah.” Like so many of his statements over the past week, it was just another placebo. Maybe it gives Cornyn the feeling that he’s actually doing something—that he’s actively beating this thing. But it’s completely useless when it comes to remedying the underlying sickness. Oh well. Maybe the next seventy tweets will help?
Chip Roy Demands That This Pandemic Set an End Date Already
Of course, some people seem to think that disease, even a pandemic like the COVID-19 outbreak, is really just a state of mind—that we cannot allow ourselves to be cowed into hiding by an unpredictable, highly contagious virus with an exponential growth rate, simply because we don’t want to get sick and die. This is America! We decide when this quarantine is over! As congressman Chip Roy argued in National Review, we’re the country that “defeated Nazism, put a man on the moon, eradicated polio, and rebuilt Manhattan after 9/11.” Just because those were all concrete tasks that required years (and, in some cases, decades) of trial and error and collaborative effort, that doesn’t mean that we can’t wrap this thing up by April, preferably in time for Easter.
Roy calls for the government to set a coronavirus “D-day”—a definitive date on which we can reopen schools, return to work, and “restart” the American economy. “Perhaps that date should be around April 1,” Roy writes. “Perhaps it should be April 15.” Perhaps it should be whenever we just feel like we have this whole pandemic thing under control, preferably in the next couple of weeks.
Roy’s argument has become a frequent talking point of late: that the longer we hunker down to contain the spread, the more our economy will suffer, inevitably plunging us into a recession that will create a tide of misery more damaging than the virus itself. Some, like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, have even gone so far as to couch this as a sort of blood sacrifice—willingly tossing Grandma into the insatiable maw of The Market. But as our own Christopher Hooks pointed out, this is a false choice. There is simply no way to safely “restart” anything until the virus is properly suppressed, and the infrastructure is in place to keep it that way. Not unless America somehow switches to a largely corpse-based economy.
Still, despite his demand for a “date certain,” Roy has developed a marginally more nuanced argument on his own, unusually prolific Twitter account. He’s suggested that an end to quarantine is not as binary as he might have made it sound. When Roy’s not futilely trying to get Tim Allen’s attention, he has applauded the idea of reopening some cities, maintaining some restrictions, and gradually getting some people back to work, according to some vaguely defined timeline. Nevertheless, Roy remains firm that we need to “announce” a specific day when all of this can start to happen, and he maintains that we need to do it soon.
Roy and Patrick’s concerns about the economy are legitimate. As Roy himself said, “People have no frigging idea how bad it will be if we don’t restart it ASAP”—and other than presuming we don’t have a pretty frigging good idea already, he’s not wrong. Unfortunately, “announcing” an end date to the only restrictions that can possibly slow the pandemic’s spread—and when most experts are predicting that we’ve yet to glimpse the worst—seems pretty frigging bad as well. It would only give us the dangerous illusion of victory while thousands of people continue to die, many of them felled because of that same resurgence. That isn’t D-day. That’s George Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. Might as well throw ourselves a big parade while we’re at it.
The coronavirus is a crisis precisely because there’s nothing “certain” about it. Each new dawn brings word of some unpredictable, exponential spike in infections. Easily available testing for everyone still isn’t in place. Hospitals still don’t have the ventilators or other resources they need. We still don’t have any sense of when any of that will end. The virus doesn’t seem to care about schedules, any more than it does your job or your loved ones. This doesn’t appear to matter to Roy. Much as Cornyn has clung to political smoke and mirrors in all this, Roy seems to have placed all his faith in American exceptionalism, even as that exact attitude has left us exceptionally screwed. Well. Whatever makes you feel better.
As we cover the novel coronavirus in Texas, we’d like to hear from you. Share with us your tips or stories about how the outbreak is affecting you. Email us at [email protected].