The weaknesses of American democracy, which the Trump presidency has so powerfully exposed, can’t be entirely blamed on the constitution or on political procedure. They are rooted in the defeat of Reconstruction after the Civil War and the enduring power of white supremacy. In recent years, they have been amplified by deindustrialisation, the collapse of organised labour and the rise of social media. The Democratic Party bears a share of the responsibility for this. Since the Clinton administration, it has prioritised free trade and globalisation over jobs and economic equality, becoming a party of college-educated middle-class professionals, and largely turning its back on working-class voters.
Yet closeness to Silicon Valley and Hollywood does not mean that Harris’s ascent will be good for businesses outside the charmed circle of tech and media conglomerates. Harris has backed a state tax and regulatory regime that has devastated the state’s middle and working classes. Once in the White House, she would presumably push similar policies ruinous for business—particularly small businesses unable to cope with high taxes, restrictive labor laws, and ever-more draconian environmental regulation.
There are several reasons for that. People still seem to see the pandemic purely as a natural disaster, not as one worsened by policy failures. And natural disasters—like wars—tend to boost incumbent support. Many Americans have no point of comparison for such a global crisis, and even those who do are largely looking to European countries that, as their second wave hits, have failed nearly as much as the United States. The numerous examples of successful control of the virus, from Australia to China to Nigeria, are almost all in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa, and simply aren’t on the radar of Western voters.
Those pushing herd immunity want people to think that it could be the route out of the Covid crisis, when, in fact, it’s more likely to prolong the nightmare. Just think for a second what such a strategy would actually look like. We would end up in a situation like that currently being faced in parts of Belgium — hospitals are under such pressure that drugs are being rationed and doctors have been issued with guidance on who is eligible for treatment. All this is before we consider what effect it would have on NHS staff who would also become unwell and unable to tend to the sick.
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.