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They can't make it all up all the time, can they?

Trump and Johnson won't be able to lie away the pandemic - but do they even care, asks Declan Lynch


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS

Last week here we were seeing the presidency of Donald Trump essentially as a television programme - that in his own mind he is literally making a TV programme every day, at the end of which he strives to be declared the winner of whatever conflict he has caused.

A few hours after that piece appeared, Trump was bragging on Twitter about the great ratings for his daily briefings on the virus - or rather on his own faultless response to it.

He re-tweeted a New York Times report on the ratings, no doubt enjoying the fact that that paper, like most papers, still doesn't really understand how this is working. They are still under the impression that Trump is to some extent a politician who is using TV to promote his position on various issues, whereas he is engaged in a much purer form of television: to him it is all television, all the time.

So he judges the success of a 'show', not by the quality or the extent of the information provided to the public at a time of national catastrophe, but strictly by the numbers.

Leo Varadkar is a politician who uses TV to promote his position on various issues. Yet what Leo is doing is clearly different in some fundamental sense to what Trump is doing. Can you imagine even for a moment that Leo might divert attention from his own failures by throwing out innuendo about health-care workers allegedly running a racket in which they are robbing face-masks and profiteering from the disaster?

Always with Trump there is a need for an adversary against whom he can prevail. Almost always it is a fictional adversary - and in this most outrageous case it is the very people who are faced with the horrors of the many appalling decisions that he has made. But that is only to be expected on what is for him, after all, a TV show.

Let us recall that the Ukraine scam for which he was impeached required the leader of that country to go on TV and talk about an investigation into the Bidens - it didn't require the investigation itself to happen, just that a false announcement be made during an interview on TV, this being the only version of reality which counts.

For Trump, if it doesn't happen on TV, it hasn't happened at all. And conversely, if it does happen on TV, no other form of validation is required.

And so we are learning from this profound engagement with fiction on every level; we are learning at the moment why the USA has responded so poorly to the pandemic, and we are also learning why Britain, if anything, has been even poorer.

The British government has spent most of its energies in recent years on Brexit - a project which requires extravagant levels of everyday dishonesty. This in turn creates a culture in which the Johnson government starts to imagine that there is no such thing as objective reality any more, that you can just keep making it all up, and it will be fine.

Brexit and the nationalism which drives it are coming from the same stable as Trumpism; they rely for much of their power on the identification of phantom enemies, and the assignment of blame to other, supposedly alien forces.

And as we saw in a recent BBC1 documentary, Taking Control : The Dominic Cummings Story, they are guided by 'contrarians' such as Cummings, even when such original thinkers are clearly crossing the thin line which separates contrarian from the crackpot.

In that documentary they quoted an old blog by Cummings in which he argued that "sometimes you need an evil genius to come in". But alas, whatever the upsides of the evil genius, it looks like a pandemic is not the ideal forum in which such characters might be kicking around their brilliant hypotheses.

Indeed I suspect the madness of the 'herd immunity' idea was related to Brexit - not just in its incessant promulgation of bullshit, but because the Tories knew the truth: that their Brexit would potentially destroy the British economy anyway.

Rather than take a further bombardment from Covid-19, it seemed that they tried to just dodge it, or to pretend that it wasn't there.

Meanwhile in the States, every day on CNN we can see Andrew Cuomo. the Governor of New York, trying to get his head around the fact that America is now so beaten and corrupted that it somehow can't figure out how to distribute medical equipment in an emergency.

These two great powers, the USA and the UK, are not what they were. They have been weakened horribly by their respective nationalist leaders, and by the pathological mendacity which has got them to where they are today.

Ratings are still great, though.

Sunday Indo Living