Advani’s propagandist appropriation was complete, except for the chariot. Advani’s chariot was not really one. It was actually an airconditioned Toyota, repurposed to look like a chariot. This caricature of the divine Rama dwelling in an airconditioned Toyota forms the defining allegory for the emergence of the Hindu rightwing in postcolonial India. Despite its avowedly pre-modern rhetoric, the political imaginary of a primordial Hindu utopia was decidedly wrought in the crisis-riven crucible of postcolonial capitalism. Rama might have been born in Ayodhya, but he did not dwell in a Hindu temple. Instead, he dwelled in an airconditioned Toyota, the likes of which were soon going to take over the Indian economy, as part of an immense political-economic catastrophe still unfolding at the time.
The boy who lost his father to the last worst pandemic in turn taught his sons to be “killers.” The underlying message, though: “Being a killer was really code for being invulnerable,” as Mary Trump put it in her recent book. “Going forward,” the niece of Donald Trump wrote of Fred Trump, “he refused to acknowledge or feel loss.” The family, in her recollection, never discussed Fred Trump’s father, or his death, or its cause. It was the lesson above all others that Fred Trump passed on to his children—foremost to his middle son, his preeminent heir, the boy who would become the 45th president of the United States.
But he has always played with other people’s money and other people’s lives. “The president was probably in a position to make riskier decisions in life because he was fabulously rich from birth,” says Murphy. “But it’s also true he has had a reputation for risk not backed up by reality. His name is on properties he doesn’t own. We think of him as taking risk in professional life, but a lot of what he does is lend his name to buildings with risks taken by others. He’s built an image as a risk taker, but it’s not clear how much risk he’s taken.”
In this pandemic, the mask reveals far more than it hides. It exposes the world’s political and economic relations for what they are: vectors of self-interest that ordinarily lie obscured under glib talk of globalisation and openness. For the demagogues who govern so much of the world, the pandemic has provided an unimpeachable excuse to fulfil their dearest wishes: to nail national borders shut, to tar every outsider as suspicious, and to act as if their own countries must be preserved above all others.
This innate, genetic resistance to conformity is a myth. This is obvious from the persistence of an equal and opposite cliche of Englishness: the queue. George Orwell could rhapsodise “the gentle-mannered, undemonstrative, law-abiding English” and “the orderly behaviour of English crowds, the lack of pushing and quarrelling, the willingness to form queues”. The anthropologist Kate Fox wrote: “During the London riots in August 2011, I witnessed looters forming an orderly queue to squeeze, one at a time, through the smashed window of a shop they were looting.” Orderliness is just as prominent as waywardness in the English self-image – which suggests that neither of these truisms is ancient, inalienable or worth a damn when you are making policy in a time of plague.
For Trump, one advantage of Soleimani’s assassination is that the Iranians will be more cautious about launching limited attacks on the US and its allies, though this isn’t to say that they will cease altogether. Iran cannot permanently de-escalate as long as sanctions continue. The intensity and length of the crisis means that accidents are likely to happen, as demonstrated by what appears to have been the unintentional shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane. At the same time, Trump and his administration are peculiarly ill-equipped to judge the likely outcome of any escalation of the conflict, or predict how the Iranians are likely to respond. This makes blundering into war a more than usually likely outcome. Iran has drawn the greater profit from the crisis so far, since Soleimani’s death goes some way to re-energising the nationalist and religious credentials of the regime: Trump’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ and economic sanctions is now less likely to force Tehran to negotiate what would amount in effect to a capitulation. In Iraq, it is too early to say whether the demand for revolutionary reform expressed in mass street protests will be marginalised or capsized by the crisis, but it will certainly be weakened, perhaps permanently.
An old profile of Suleimani.
The prominence the soft-spoken Suleimani has achieved is especially striking given his origins. Born into poverty in the mountains of eastern Iran, he displayed remarkable tenacity at an early age. When his father was unable to pay a debt, the 13-year-old Suleimani worked to pay it off himself. He spent his free time lifting weights and attending sermons given by a protégé of Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was enamored with the Iranian revolution as a young man. In 1979, at only 22, Suleimani began his ascent through the Iranian military, reportedly receiving just six weeks of tactical training before seeing combat for the first time in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. But he is truly a child of the Iran-Iraq War, which began the next year. He emerged from the bloody conflict a hero for the missions he led across Iraq’s border—but more important, he emerged as a confident, proven leader.
Michael Bloomberg. Presidential candidate.
Bloomberg’s belated decision to run was motivated in large part by his growing alarm at Elizabeth Warren’s rise from the left. And Warren, trying to regain momentum, has been fast and loud in criticizing Bloomberg’s plans to spend tens of millions of dollars trying to make himself a legitimate candidate for the nomination. But Bloomberg—who is skipping the four February early-primary states to concentrate on Super Tuesday, on March 3, when 14 states vote—now needs to root for Warren or Bernie Sanders to emerge from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada as the leader for the Democratic nomination. “That way, he can draw a cleaner contrast as the centrist, experienced job-creator,” says Matt Paul, a Democratic strategist who Bloomberg consulted last winter, when he was first weighing a bid. “That has to be Mike’s play. If it’s Biden or Pete [Buttigieg] in front coming into Super Tuesday, it gets much harder.”
Baghdadi’s death could also lead to an uptick in Islamic State-inspired attacks in the near term, primarily as a reaction to the news that he was killed by U.S. special operations forces. But over the longer term, the death of Baghdadi could have an attenuating effect on the group’s inspirational pull, given the way that Baghdadi specifically resonated with legions of supporters throughout the West and the broader Islamic world. Previous announcements of his death never had this effect, but mostly because these rumors were squashed relatively soon after they spread.
Trust China to do the most bold things.
Chen Yalei, the financial broker, says Beijing is making a kind of offer to the cities in the Greater Bay Area that they simply can’t refuse. “Of course, there will be major shifts and, of course, some of these cities will lose importance while others gain ground.” But, he adds, at least for the time being, Hong Kong will remain indispensable, as the financial center of the Pearl River Delta and as China’s gateway to the world.
And afterwards? “The reformer Deng Xiaoping created a monument to himself in Shenzhen, and for his successor, Jiang Zemin, it was in Shanghai ” says Chen Yalei. “The Greater Bay Area is the project that President Xi Jinping intends to be remembered by in the history books.”