Characterology

If you are looking beyond stupidity and narcissism for Trump’s complacency during the pandemic’s early days, here’s David Corn in Mother Jones on his fatalism:

“In a 1990 interview with Playboy, he was asked to describe his “longer-term views of the future.” Trump replied, “I think of the future, but I refuse to paint it. Anything can happen. But I often think of nuclear war.” He then explained that he thought nuclear war was inevitable: “I believe the greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing it will never happen…What bullshit.” In other interviews, Trump has indicated nuclear war was likely to occur. On one occasion, he noted that because of this he preferred to “really live very much for the present.”

And if you are looking for an explanation for his seeming vindictiveness towards not just blue state governors but the blue states themselves, there’s this:

“In a 2007 speech, he noted his first rule of business: “It’s called ‘Get Even.’ Get even. This isn’t your typical business speech. Get even. What this is is a real business speech. You know in all fairness to Wharton, I love ’em, but they teach you some stuff that’s a lot of bullshit. When you’re in business, you get even with people that screw you. And you screw them 15 times harder.”

And what is the presidency if not a family business? He sees the political class as his employees and the rest of us as customers. If we’re not his customers, then we’re his enemies. It’s as if Coke was doing all that it could to ensure that Pepsi drinkers die.

Trump’s call to cure the cure

I’m not as worried about Trump’s insane call to end the pandemic by fiat in two weeks and turn Easter into a national day of Thanksgiving to him as I am about a lot of other things, because 1) He’s already proven that every decision he makes is the worst possible, so what else could we have expected? and 2) Because two weeks from now might as well be a thousand years from now. Things have long since passed out of his or anyone else’s control.

As to what it will take to wake up the GOP, the answer is pretty clear. People who Republican lawmakers and their contributors care about (meaning themselves and their immediate families) have to get sick and die. That’s always been the case, no matter what the malady–as long as it’s a gay problem, a Hispanic or black problem, an immigrant or poverty problem, or a New York and California problem, they dismiss it with censure or suggest that the victims cure it with prayer. When it hits closer to home, they demand action. And that’s already starting to happen.

Out of the frying pan…

If we hadn’t had three years of slow boiling normalization, I think people would be even more astonished than they are by Trump’s breathtaking stupidity and incapacity to lead. The worst of it isn’t going to be that he prematurely orders the country to reopen for business, causing people to start dying in droves. It’s that he’s going to order the country to open for business WHILE people are dying in droves. When the economy isn’t magically restored, he’s going to threaten to punish the states that are hurting the worst because they’re doing the least to help his reelection.

I am so certain that a declaration of martial law is coming that I can’t even write about it. It doesn’t matter what the Constitution says–he’ll Tweet it or say it during one of his press conferences and half the country will take it seriously. The military will have to decide what to do next. I predict the tipping point will come much sooner than next November–likely it will be when some of the octogenarians on the court and in the Senate start dying.

Am I being too paranoid? I hope so.

Time is out of joint

3/20 The weirdest thing about all this is that the knock-on effects are being felt before the virus itself has landed the full-on body blow that it’s expected to deliver. It’s as if the fallout has preceded the blast. The markets are devastated, the work-a-day-world frozen, and the government a zombie (Trump is finished no matter what the polls say—today’s job report was terrific too, for all that that’s worth—and the GOP’s insider trading has likely doomed its control of the Senate). But the numbers of deaths worldwide are still in the low five figures, not the millions that seem all but inevitable.

Diary of the Plague

3/18 I wrote this big riff in a business book I ghosted about how people are evolved to react to immediate threats, like saber tooth tigers and cave bears. That’s why we are slow to respond to abstract threats that are distant in time, like systemic bank failures, global warming, and deadly pandemics. And yet our economy has been turned inside out and very likely destroyed on the basis of scenarios–best- and worst-case projections about what could happen if the chains of contagion aren’t interrupted, extrapolated from incomplete and incompatible data (a cruise ship; a nursing home; an Asian or European nation).

90 people die in traffic accidents in the US every day; only 100 Americans (that we know of) had died from the virus a couple of days agao. But in two weeks, it could be thousands, in six months to a year, a million or even millions. All of our belated social distancing responses, with all of the trillions of dollars in lost wealth that they entail, are in anticipation of something that hasn’t happened and in hope of preventing it. Shades of Schroedinger’s Cat. Maybe in two weeks we’ll open up the black box of that possible future and the cat will jump out, alive and well. More likely, we’ll be looking at horrible numbers that could have been even worse.

3/19 If all these other things hadn’t happened, I would have remembered the last six months as a horrific season in my life, marked as they’ve been by sickness and death, my own (the sickness) and others’. I had cancer surgery in the fall; I have an endocrine problem now that requires surgery that I assume will be cancelled. A month ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends commit suicide.

The hardest part of grieving for me has always been that daily moment, usually as I’m getting out of bed, when I remember that my world is no longer what it was. I had that a lot in the days and weeks after the Trump election too–that stark realization that this is irrevocable; that the worst is yet to come. I’m not saying that the world won’t go back to normal someday, whatever that means. It did after Srebenica, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima; it did after each visitation of the Black Plague. A volcano killed 30,000 people in Martinique in 1902; people still live and work there and it’s a popular vacation destination. Just for fun, I asked Google if Martinique is safe and it assured me that it is, though muggings are a mild concern.

Life will go on here too. Biden may take office next January and erase every trace of Trump from the body politic, or the country might decide to reward Trump’s exceptional leadership in this time of crisis with rule-for-life. Both of them may be dead. Who knows? But if I live through this, I suspect I will be too old and too shell-shocked to ever trust the idea of normalcy again.

This is the way the world ends

Next month, if I am still breathing, I will have to find the cash to pay my taxes on last year’s capital gains, which have been completely erased. Like so many people, I’ve lost every penny of wealth I gained since Trump became president and then some. But–and everyone but Trump seems to get this–I am less freaked out about the economic devastation than the terrible toll in human lives that is coming. Trump has made everything about himself. And now his name is stamped on the Apocalypse.

The liquor store had a sign up yesterday that they weren’t accepting cash, due to the danger of corona virus transmission. The guy that ran the credit card machine, which hundreds of customers, including me, were touching with their germy fingers, was wearing latex gloves. “Have a nice day,” he said.

The mood is like it was at the end of the movie Failsafe, which made an indelible impression on me as a little kid–the die has been cast; the world as we knew it is finished, though all the buildings and people are still intact.

If I were writing a novel about the rise and fall of Donald Trump, I might end it here. No need to show him flailing for months and months, preening and striking bold poses for his dwindling base, striking out at his enemies, or even more likely, getting sick and dying offstage as the tsunami finally rolls ashore.

Journal of the Plague Year

I turned on Rachel Maddow last night and saw the video of Iran’s Minister of Health at a press conference, frowning and mopping his brow as he stood next to some high dignitary who was assuring the nation that the virus was under control, and I felt like I was in a fever dream myself–a feeling that I’ve had repeatedly since November, 2016. The next day, the minister addressed the nation from the hospital, where he was being treated for COVID-19.

Back when I was promoting CULTS and THE NEW HATE, I used to try to explain the difference between conspiracies, which happen all the time, and global conspiracy theories.

Suppressing testing to keep the numbers of reported cases low in hopes of fooling the market and protecting Trump’s political standing = conspiracy.

Sinister interests using the media they control to spread false stories about a deadly epidemic in China, Korea, Iran, and Italy in order to crash the US economy and embarrass President Trump, possibly hiring crisis actors to pretend to be sick and dying = conspiracy theory.

Congressman Gaetz’s, Collins’, and the new Chief of Staff Meadow’s self-quarantines? That’s just poetic justice.