On Being Careful What You Wish For

All those self-described conservative or constitutionalist Americans who last week were condemning Donald Trump for “not doing enough” to combat the coronavirus outbreak — as if a friggin’ head of state can stop a highly contagious flu bug — are apparently about to get yet another real-life lesson in being careful what you wish for. 

Trump, a vainglorious ignoramus who (a) makes most of his decisions based on fear of losing face, and (b) never met an opportunity to abuse his authority that he didn’t like, has now said in a press conference that imposing a nation-wide travel ban within the U.S. is “a possibility.” 

Read his reasoning very carefully:

“We haven’t discussed that yet,” Trump said when asked about the option at a bilateral meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. “Is it a possibility? Yes. If somebody gets a little bit out of control, if an area gets too hot.”

“You see what they’re doing in New Rochelle, which is good frankly,” Trump continued, referring to the city just north of Manhattan where there is a growing cluster of coronavirus cases. “It’s the right thing, but it’s not enforced, it’s not very strong. But people know they’re being watched. New Rochelle, that’s a hot spot.”

“If somebody gets a little bit out of control.”

“It’s the right thing, but it’s not enforced, it’s not very strong,” i.e., not strong enough.

“But people know they’re being watched. New Rochelle, that’s a hot spot.”

Is anyone paying attention to what Trump is saying here? — namely that American citizens, and even whole communities, are going to be demonized, criminalized, ostracized, for getting sick, as if they wanted to be sick, or as if they ought to have known better than to step outside their homes without government permission in the first place.

Is anyone hearing this “new tone” from the reality-TV-star-in-chief? Or is the home of the brave so immersed in this moment of collective cowardice before a mere illness that the public labeling of innocent fellow citizens and neighborhoods as malefactors, and the easygoing threat of sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement and association — in response to a virus outbreak that is already way past the point of localized containment — sounds to today’s America like a welcome sign of government “caring” in a slavish citizenry’s quivering hour of (emotional) need?

I have always said that the totalitarian demagogue Trump most resembles is Mussolini. Now, as Italy herself has decided to return to the Mussolini model of state authority in an act of the purest national illogic, Trump is apparently taking his cue from this and contemplating his own Il Duce power lunge.

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