MITCH BENN: Trump’s coronavirus press briefings are his theatre of spite

PUBLISHED: 12:00 28 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:15 31 March 2020

US President Donald Trump takes questions during a daily briefing on the coronavirus at the White House. Picture: Getty Images

US President Donald Trump takes questions during a daily briefing on the coronavirus at the White House. Picture: Getty Images

Archant

With Boris Johnson belatedly raising his game, MITCH BENN’s attention turns to “horrifyingly fascinatiing” behaviour of his US counterpart.

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How are we all holding up? I do hope you’re all well, safe and still relatively sane. I won’t ask if you’re all behaving yourselves and staying indoors, since that decision is no longer ours to make.

As I write, it’s been less that 24 hours since the prime minister’s grave-faced announcement of the curfew, and I must say, I’m experiencing a sensation I never thought I’d get from Boris Johnson: reassurance.

Not reassurance that everything is going to be okay – it isn’t, and our inability to countenance that fact is perhaps the main thing that made Johnson’s address necessary – but rather the reassurance that Boris Johnson is capable of at the very least pretending to take something seriously.

I don’t know whether what we saw in the prime minister’s face on Monday evening was genuine concern for the plight of the nation or genuine concern for the plight of his job, but it was, undeniably, concern. There was a script, and he stuck to it.

By the end of his broadcast even the most lackadaisical viewer would have been left to consider that if that guy can stop smirking and laughing this off then maybe things really are getting a bit grim.

For months now we’ve been wondering what it would take to make Boris Johnson come across as prime ministerial; turns out it needed two things: firstly, a once in a century epidemiological crisis, and secondly, Donald Trump.

Our PM might still be somewhat lacking in the gravitas stakes (like I 
said, I don’t know whether he’s faking this newfound soberness but as long 
as it’s working I’m content to let him fake it) and questions remain about his attention span, but he’s a tower of stentorian authority and piercing intellect compared to the wheezing shambles currently haunting the White House.

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I’m sure that both Johnson and Trump have been thinking that this isn’t what they thought they’d signed up for when they took the highest office in their respective lands, but while Johnson is belatedly raising his game, Trump appears to be playing an entirely different game of his own invention, the rules of which he’s making up as he goes along.

His daily pressers have become the object of horrified fascination to the US media as he contradicts his own medical experts (sometimes while they’re standing right next to him), trots out glib extemporised estimates as to when this will all be over and even proposes his own treatments (which have reportedly been followed by at least one American couple with fatal consequences). Above all, his primary concern seems to be establishing that none of this is his fault, which is ironic as his actions are far more likely to kill off his supporters than his opponents.

Perhaps this is a generational difference; Trump representing the obstreperous Boomers while Boris embodies Generation X’s stoicism. Certainly a common topic on social media in the last couple of weeks before the lockdown was 30 and 40-somethings’ frustration at being unable to get their elderly relatives to take this situation seriously. I myself finally persuaded my mum to start staying indoors when I pointed out to her that every day she stayed alive counted as a big F-You to Dominic Cummings.

An increasingly common – and telling – theme now is American conservative commentators demanding to know when this will all be over so they can get on with making money. That’s right; demanding.

Fox News’s Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Americans need to know date certain when this will end.” Former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn weighed in with: “Is it time to start discussing the need for a date when the economy can turn back on?”

I find myself shaking my head like
Jeff Goldblum at Jurassic Park’s dinner table. The sheer absence of humility in the face of nature. The utter lack of comprehension of these people at finding themselves in a situation they can’t bully, bluster or buy their way out of. At finding themselves with an enemy they can’t just fire, or outsource, or have arrested, or evicted, or deported.

Covid-19 is a virus. To quote another classic sci-fi movie, it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and it absolutely will not stop. There is no end date. This will take as long as it takes, and even afterwards things may never be quite the same again.

I’m an optimist. I have to be, and I choose to be. It’s possible that, for all that this crisis will bring untold amounts of pain and grief in the immediate future, the things it’s forcing us to learn about – ourselves and each other, and about what really matters to us – might help us to imagine and then perhaps even create a better world once the clouds part.

Stay safe and look after each other.

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