Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

Opinion | Trump’s Corona Coronation

“There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” That’s President Putin — I’m sorry, I mean President Trump — declining to assure Americans of a peaceful transfer of power after the November election. Does it get any clearer than that?

Trump, in the fog of a pandemic, has opted for chaos. If he can generate enough, he figures, the election results can be disputed, and a post-Ginsburg Supreme Court will hand him victory. “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” he says.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. The duck is called a Trump power grab.

Oh, we’ve heard it all these past 44 months, Trump is a harmless buffoon, he is inconsequential, the adults in the room have him by the cojones. Yes, and we know from 20th-century history that raving loudmouths, lunatic clowns and cunning actors never do real damage, right? Wake up!

It’s not easy. My city, New York, feels semi-anaesthetized. Madison Avenue, midmorning on a Monday, is ghostly. People are dazed. They’re so done with the virus. What they would most like to know is what they can’t know, which is how far through this nightmare are we. Halfway? More? Or, God help us, less?

And what exactly is the nightmare? Trump tramples on science, turns it into a political tool, and so the plague becomes a double one in which the death of more than 200,000 Americans and the death of reason fuse. A terrible foreboding takes hold. Meaning has succumbed to fever. We are trapped in a Zoom box inside four walls in cities with moats around them and the drawbridges pulled up. The Great Calamity is upon us.

The calamity has many elements. Trump makes repeated and baseless claims that mail-in balloting will result in rampant voter fraud and an election stolen by the Democrats. He offers hymns to violence. Predicts “citizen militias,” calls an assault on a journalist “a beautiful sight,” condemns protesters as “domestic terrorists.” He explores using the Insurrection Act and the military to suppress disorder. To an impossible defeat, the Great Leader intimates, the only response is violent resistance in the name of his continuation.

Trump’s Republican Party is servile. It is conspiratorial. Senator Mitch McConnell, his zealous functionary of indecent hypocrisy, reacts to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by racing to install a conservative replacement. “O most wicked speed,” as Hamlet put it. No need even to attempt to disguise the purpose. Vice President Mike Pence suggests a new justice must be seated to decide “election issues” that may arise “in the days following the election.”

Hamlet again: “The time is out of joint.” What is the scream gathering in tightened lungs? It is the death of language. Trump’s incessant lies do that, strip words of sense. The virus does that, too, creating hideous neologisms. To see someone is now to have an “in-person” or “live” meeting. This has become a privilege. Think about it.

Look at children, now in “pods” or “cohorts,” subject to “synchronous” classes that involve a teacher being there in real time (either in person or on video), and the less desirable “asynchronous” classes, meaning a prerecorded video or some posted assignment. This is Orwell territory. “Coronavirus,” all 11 letters of it, rolls off any child’s tongue.

Or look at the Skid Rows forming as businesses close and tourism dies, and try to consider a terrible thought — that a tribal America is so incapable of constructive debate that even a coherent response to a pandemic became impossible and masks are turned into a political statement.

And still the scream will not be released from lungs under constant scrutiny because it is all too much to bear. The pathogen hyper-inflates anxiety, 1930s style.

A friend, a naturalized American like me, writes from Austria: “I am baffled. I am shattered. I question my entire belief system, my trust in America, my darling adoptive country: Was I too naïve? Too idealistic? Too young? Too stupid? The hardest part for me to understand is not the one lunatic, not the one certifiably, wickedly twisted mind, but all of his enablers, all of his supporters. Who are they? How are so many of them even possible?”

They are possible because America-First nationalism is a heady drug for a nation past the zenith of its power, battered by forever wars and economic precariousness. They are possible because the Great Leader says your ugliest demons are in fact your greatest assets. Just look at me!

“It’s a rigged election. It’s the only way we’re going to lose,” Trump says. A pliant judiciary, a press he calls the “enemy of the people” tamed, a personal militia, a miraculous vaccine by November: He wants it all for his continuation. He’s got his son Donald Trump Jr. claiming Democrats “will add millions of fraudulent votes that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.” The disease runs in the family, you see. They want a corona coronation.

The time is out of joint. Wake up! See the duck for what it is. Vote. Register and vote. The Great Calamity is upon us.

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