It was like getting the band back together again. Trump, Johnson and Morrison, three ageing white populists, ready to save the world. All claiming a mandate to rule us, their way. No buyers’ remorse will be permitted.
They all speak a form of English, although it is understood that their words may not make sense. They are all somewhat confused by the notion of speaking truth, and they all suffer an empathy deficit. These are indeed deflating, and confusing times.
The leader of the free world
On any reasonably intelligent reading Donald Trump is exactly what we all expected. He is narcissistic, shallow, uninterested, ignorant and dangerous. In times of crisis he was always going to struggle, because he is not equipped, intellectually or emotionally, to deliver leadership.
He has drifted from overconfident bluster that COVID-19 was just like the flu, to trying to downplay it because it rained on his ‘economic boom’ on Wall Street, to preposterous posturing, such as when he stated that he knew it was a pandemic before the rest of the world knew, although he was also telling us it was not only just like the flu, but a Democrat hoax, all at the same time. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/opinion/trump-coronavirus.html
The U.S. is now weeks behind where it should be, in containment terms. This will most probably lead to many more deaths than would have otherwise been the case.
Trump has been calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus’ for weeks, causing racist attacks on Chinese Americans, presumably by his base. This was seen as a fully conscious signal to his supporters. Today he did a full 180 degree turn, and leapt to their defence, describing them as “good people”. He did not call ‘the silent enemy’, the virus, Chinese. How long will Americans tolerate this man? There are very few groups he has NOT disrespected in his three years in power. One benefit of this virus is that it may cruel his chances of re-election.
It is difficult to tell if Donald Trump’s ‘handling’ of the COVID-19 crisis was wilfully negligent, or just plainly too uncomfortable for him. He is the successor to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, and the country deserves better.
He has caused world-wide depression and anxiety, and he has tragically delayed America’s response to the virus. This has added to the impression that America has vacated its position as the world’s leading nation state. America’s reputation may never recover.
The leader of the United Kingdom
Boris Johnson has been with the British in some form for many years. “He is thought of as a joke, but he makes people laugh” is advanced as one reason for his current electoral success. He went early on the ‘herd immunity’ strategy for the United Kingdom, until his medical people panicked, and clamoured for change.
That approach was described as “callous and dangerous”, and hopefully he will one day face harsh judgement for his shambolic response. Valuable time was lost, and the U.K. can now, probably expect a much more serious rate of infections, and deaths, due to Johnson’s original, flawed choice.
He appears to be as narcissistic, shallow, uninterested, ignorant and dangerous as Mr Trump. In times of crisis he was always going to struggle, because he is not equipped, intellectually or emotionally, to deliver leadership. Trump and Johnson are like twins, separated at birth.
The leader of “The lucky country”
The third amigo is Scott Morrison. He is a marketing careerist, a fundamentalist Christian, and a shameless prevaricator who has, until now, had no known goal beyond dodging questions from the Press, and remaining in power. He is the successor of Chifley, Curtin, Hawke and Menzies. During the 2019 election campaign he was forced to hide his entire cabinet from scrutiny, because of their lack of intellectual capacity, and or human qualities.
He is using most of that cabinet, now out of hiding, as his front-line defence of the Commonwealth. They still lack basic qualities, but Morrison likes to do most of the heavy lifting. Like most of the leadership, however, they are being held hostage by a right wing rump in the Parliament, and we are not sure of their response, to his response, to COVID-19. So far, so good.
After a disastrous summer of catastrophic bushfires, in which Morrison lost most of the public’s trust, and goodwill, and a simmering argument about mishandled taxpayer funds, used for political purposes, the virus has very quickly assumed centre stage in our consciousness. It has become a battle for survival, with the community finally catching on to the seriousness of the situation.
On most measures, Morrison has stepped up. He has lost his supercilious smirk, and he seems to have jettisoned most of his neo-liberal baggage. He recognises the dire situation, and his obsession with fiscal rectitude has been put aside. He is playing catch-up, but he is seemingly sincere. He is using medical experts, and he is increasing our medical response. He is moving his focus from financial, to basic health concerns.
There are still glimpses of the partisan warrior, and a curious reluctance to fully embrace the Keynesian orthodoxy. Sometimes his simulatory measures have an in-built delay, which defeats the purpose of action, now! Why delay the increase in the Jobseeker Allowance, static for 24 years, until April 27? It just seems ideological, and we need better, now.
On balance, the greatest problem is one of implementation. A million people lose their jobs, and the Centrelink organisation is overwhelmed. The relief money from the bush-fires has not reached the intended beneficiaries yet, two months later. Can we trust this Government to deliver now, when the virus outweighs even the bush-fires, in terms of damage to people’s lives?
Can we expect the Government to govern, and to not be tied up in internal squabbles? Can they put aside their partisan positions, and utilise every person with necessary skills? Maybe even include the Opposition? Can they manage a novel set of disastrous circumstances, with competence?
They had better, because we have not, in our lifetimes, faced such a terrible situation. And Morrison says his mission is to keep Australians safe. So I wish him luck.