Covid bites Trump

10 Oct 2020

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SELDOM in the history of mankind has the illness of one person caused so much glee around the world. That shrill sound you hear are giggles on social media.

I know it’s not nice to revel in schadenfreude, the German word for deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others, but Donald Trump deserves it as nobody else does. While many put on a veneer of sympathy, they are generally delighted that he fell victim to Covid-19, the virus that has already killed around 215,000 Americans, and infected more than seven million.

It was Trump, more than any other world leader, who urged his countrymen to spurn their masks, and generally ignore the pandemic. Many of his poorly educated followers took him at his word and fell victim to the deadly virus. And his outlandish ‘cures’, including bleach to be injected into veins, indicate how out of touch with reality he is.

So when he conducted meetings — and one presidential debate with his rival Joe Biden — without wearing a mask, doctors were aghast. Even his entourage at the debate refused to wear any protective gear. As a result of such unshielded gatherings, dozens of his staff, family members and senators are now stricken with the disease.

Despite a series of national polls showing Trump will lose the election on Nov 3, he is determined to fight on. More alarmingly, he has sent out signals that he may not accept the result if he doesn’t win. The outcome of such an unprecedented move could be violent, given the number of arms his supporters display at public meetings.

It’s useful to have an elected idiot taking the flak.

Given America’s lofty claims to moral leadership and democratic behaviour, Trump has hardly helped his country to set an example. Now, how can any American leader or diplomat lecture others on the virtues of human rights and freedom?

And nor can this crusade be carried out by a state that condones the vicious racism within its shores. How do you criticise others for their treatment of minorities when your police kill blacks with impunity practically every other day?

In less than four years, Trump has done more to tarnish his country’s image than any of his predecessors. And by his personal words and actions, he has made the White House the emblem of scandal and nepotism.

Ai Weiwei, the iconic Chinese artist living in exile as a fierce critic of his government, recently ticked off his countrymen for expressing joy at Trump’s misfortune. Really? After the American president launched a destabilising trade war with China, and blamed the country for the virus, surely people are allowed an expression of relief at the sight of their foe getting bitten.

Trump is widely viewed as a creature of the powerful capitalist predators who have benefited most from his generous tax cuts. As income inequality has continued to grow around the world, especially in America, there is a growing fear of revolution. So it’s useful to have an elected idiot taking the flak for the ills of capitalism. But while they flocked to fund his campaign coffers in 2016, plutocrats aren’t as generous this time around. After all, they are experts at spotting a loser.

There is an important school of thought that includes Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx who hold that history is not made by individuals, but by economic and social factors. This theory can best be summed up by this quote: “The material world determines our ideas, rather than our ideas determining the material world.”

It is true that the sweep of history is more often than not laid down by materialism, but individuals like Stalin, Hitler and Mao have accelerated the process in the last century. Prophets in the past revealed truths that are still revered today, for better or for worse.

So perhaps Trump has unwittingly brought the contradictions that lie at the heart of capitalism to the forefront. We will soon find out if the majority of Americans buy into his vision of a freewheeling economy that ignores the poor while further enriching the wealthy. Or has the American Dream turned into a nightmare?

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions in the developing world have been lifted out of poverty, thanks to globalisation. This outsourcing of jobs is something Trump has fought against tooth and nail, largely because it has fuelled a rampant Chinese economy. These billions have boosted China to the extent where it can now look America in the eye, and claim technological leadership. This is anathema to the White House and the Pentagon.

But Trump has raised commercial and scientific disputes to the next level by imposing fierce tariffs and sanctions. It is a sign of Chinese determination that it has refused to bend.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Trump faces a crushing defeat. But it will probably not lessen the divisions in American society.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2020