It is a study in diametrically opposite contrasts. Say what you will about prime minister Boris Johnson, but he not only appeared Prime Ministerial, he looked concerned and he looked like he meant it. Boris clearly took no pleasure in enunciating for the Queen’s government the austere measures he was compelled to put in force, but his grave demeanor and sober relevance communicated hope to a frightened nation.
Meanwhile in America a little man who is supposed to be president of the United States got his feelings hurt for reasons that can only be described as baffling. You all know of Trump’s immature response to Peter Alexander’s perfectly appropriate question, a question any politician, even in a time of crisis, would jump at to answer. “What do you say to Americans right now who are scared?” It’s the kind of question a Machiavellian politician might deliberately plant at a press conference. But Donald Trump is a man incapable of behaving in a normal way, and because he’s stupid, he doesn’t even see a brilliant opportunity when it comes knocking. He not only missed a chance to look like a leader, he chose instead to look insane. He chose to be a monster.
Boris Johnson’s measures are sweeping and magisterial. Restaurants, pubs, gyms, recreation centres are closed with immediate effect. The finance minister announced that the government would pay 80% of wages for employees who are unable to work — up to 2,500 pounds a month — for the next three months. Citizens are asked to stay home and restrict travel. Doctors have been called out of retirement to help meet, not just the existing need, but the anticipated need, to soften the blow of the coming monstrous inevitability.
Meanwhile the monster in the White House reminds us why it was a mistake to put him there. He tells the governors of the country that “we are not a shipping clerk,” implying that’s a lowly thing that little people do, and states should worry about getting needed medical supplies to the people. But America needs shipping clerks. America does not need the monster.
Meanwhile Britons have much to worry about, but paying for healthcare isn’t one of them. America’s lack of universal healthcare is coming home to roost. The monster doesn’t care. He cares about helping the hotel industry — a personal economic concern of his — and getting himself re-elected.
We almost made it, we really almost did. We came ever so close to seeing him gone before a real crisis came. Now the crisis is upon us, the biggest of my lifetime. I’ve lived through (though barely remember) the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assaination of John F. Kennedy and 9/11. As terrible as those crises were they were nothing like this. And each time our good luck arranged it so that men and women equal to the challenge were in place every time.
I was fortunate to be living in America during those first three crises with men and women equal to them, and am fortunate not to be living there during this fourth. But that is small comfort. Though I live in relative safety from the monster, I take personally what he is doing to my people and my nation. It is why I have fought for that people and that nation in my own small way since the monster came. I continue to fight because I love my people and I love my country and I mourn what the monster is doing to both.
We must look for positives where we can find them. As I said early in this crisis I believe coronavirus will kill Donald Trump. Not physically, though that certainly could happen, but politically. I was privately convinced that he had a good chance to be re-elected before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now I think his chances are extremely poor. That much is good. And we also may have bought ourselves more time as a species. For the first time in my lifetime carbon emissions have been drastically reduced thanks to this crisis.
Unlike Trump, who is incapable of learning, we can learn from this. We can learn that we are all in this thing called life — whatever that thing is — together. We can learn that we need each other. We can learn that the politics of hate and greed won’t protect us and aren’t there for us at our hour of need. And we can learn that together we can slay the monster, and build into law an assurance that no monster will be able to ascend to power ever again in American history.