Thursday, May 28, 2020
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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 23-05-2020 10:19

Getting down to business

Something must be badly wrong with a system which offers voters a choice between Trump and Joe Biden. Surely a country inhabited by over 330 million people can do better than that?

After going into hibernation for several months in an attempt to keep out of the way of the latest virus to emerge from the entrails of a bat, pangolin or, some would have it, a biological warfare laboratory inconveniently located in Wuhan, the world is gradually shaking itself awake. Like prisoners on parole, more and more people can leave their homes and wander the streets under the watchful eyes of policemen looking for excuses to book them for not wearing an officially approved mask or for getting too close to one another. In some easy going places, even such risky activities as sunbathing in parks and swimming in ponds or the sea are permitted, but such privileges could be quickly withdrawn if, as many epidemiologists predict, the virus mounts a new offensive. 

Politicians are also getting back to business as usual, which in most places entails accusing their rivals, if these happen to be in government, of being unfit to rule or, if they are in opposition, of trying to hamper efforts to defend the common good against irresponsible miscreants seeking to undermine it for their own despicable purposes. All seek to make the most of statistics relating to the coronavirus attack.

This is especially true in the United States, where the gulf between the supporters of Donald Trump and his foes is every bit as wide as the one separating Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from hers is down here. With presidential elections fast approaching, there was never much chance that the great coronavirus crisis, which has hit the US almost as hard as it has Europe, would have a sobering effect on the combatants. Things being as they are, it looks as though we are about to be treated to the dirtiest and least edifying election campaign the US has ever seen. This would not matter overmuch if what was at stake was the presidency of a sparsely populated backwater somewhere in Africa but – despite the best efforts of its political and cultural elites – the US is still the richest, most powerful and most influential country on the face of the planet. What goes on there affects everybody else.

North Americans have good reason to be proud of their political institutions which, by and large, have proved to be better and more durable than most others, but something must be badly wrong with a system which offers voters a choice between Trump and Joe Biden. Surely a country inhabited by over 330 million people, many of them bright, experienced and of sterling character, can do better than that?

By now everybody knows that Trump is a narcissistic vulgarian prone to pick needless fights with anyone rash enough to cross him, including the leaders of allied countries, but by all accounts Biden, a machine politician with a creepy habit of fingering or nuzzling any woman within reach, is even worse. As was made embarrassingly clear during the Democrat primaries, the man is in his dotage and is barely capable of stringing together a comprehensible sentence; he won his party’s nomination only because he was not a leftist with a taste for tyrannies like Bernie Sanders.

Trump, who among other things is an accomplished television performer, must be impatiently looking forward to having a public debate with “sleepy Joe.” He would have to avoid making him a victim of verbal bullying by treating him with excessive cruelty, but apart from that he would have little to worry about.

The US president got to where he is by infuriating his opponents to such an extent that many appeared to be unhinged; hence the “Trump derangement syndrome” political analysts talk about. With considerable cunning, he ensures that millions of North Americans assume that they too are being targeted by the “progressive” academics, newspaper pundits, television personalities and enormously wealthy Hollywood grandees who enjoy berating him for his many character flaws and the extravagant claims he likes to make. It is thanks largely to them – and to his willingness to pay attention to issues others preferred to overlook like the harm done to working folk by large-scale illegal immigration and the emigration of factory jobs to low-wage places like China – that Trump beat Hillary Clinton in November 2016. Most take it for granted that, had it not been for the coronavirus panic which overshadows everything else, he would now be in a position to defeat Biden by a far wider margin later this year. 

For many Democrats and their sympathisers in academe, the media and some of the manifold security services, the advent of Trump was such an outlandish event that it simply had to be due to some sinister international conspiracy, hence the determined effort to show he was a “Russian asset” manipulated by the archfiend Vladimir Putin. 

The wild goose chase many Democrat politicians and their friends in the media indulged in went on for years but it led nowhere and, with evidence surfacing of just how far members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama and the supposedly apolitical CIA and FBI were prepared to go to make their charges stick, could very well come back to haunt its instigators. Either way, squabbles over who said what to whom whether in face-to-face encounters, on the phone or via emails about what could be done to thwart Trump, are currently making the US political panorama even murkier than usual.

The self-paralysis thus induced could hardly have come at a worse moment. The world, knocked off balance by a madly proliferating swarm of tiny viruses, badly needs a superpower capable of providing moral leadership, but the only country with enough economic and technical resources to do so is led by a man who does not want the job, while his eventual successor is already what unkind observers describe as “a vegetable.”

As for the only other potential applicants, the European Union and China, the former is in disarray and unless it gets its act together could fall apart, while the latter is a thoroughgoing dictatorship ruled by merciless control freaks which is getting blamed for unleashing, whether on purpose or by mistake, the virus that has provoked a reaction that seems certain to bring about a new great depression and, many fear, years of violent chaos in countries which, even before the pandemic struck, were barely able to govern themselves.

James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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