Covid-19

Donald Trump is a naked emperor when it comes to the coronavirus

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By NADINE DREYER
Donald Trump is pretending to be on top of the situation.
Donald Trump is pretending to be on top of the situation.
Image: Keith Tamkei

Ever since Eve munched on the apple, those with power have behaved badly. One example of a guy with a Gupta-like mind and Gupta-like bank account was Marcus Licinius Crassus.

The one-time mate of Julius Caesar realised Rome had no fire department, so he created one. Very public-spirited you'd think, until he was exposed. His 500-man gang would rush to a fire, then do nothing.

Crassus would offer to buy the building at a bucket-shop discount and if the owner refused to sell, his men would stand with their hands on their hips while the property burnt to the ground.

Brutal stuff, and it gets worse.

Being royal in the Ottoman Empire was as poisoned a chalice as you could drink from. In the middle of the 15th century Mehmed II drew up the "law of fratricide".

Whoever succeeded in seizing the throne on the death of the old sultan was encouraged to murder all his brothers.

When Sultan Mehmed III succeeded to the throne in 1595 all 19 of his siblings were strangled to death with silk handkerchiefs, including infants still sucking on their mother's breasts.

After 150 years playing hide-and-seek and practising Usain Bolt sprints, the tradition was reformed Ottoman-style. Unwanted siblings were instead locked up in rooms deep within Topkapi palace in Istanbul with barren concubines to console them.

It's 2020 now and we don't habitually cut off each other's heads, but the entire world faces the same crisis and we're able to assess the response of different leaders in an almost forensic manner.

So how does the leader of the free world rate?

US president Doanls Trump has been repeatedly criticised for referring to the coronavirus as the "Chinese Virus".

He almost tweeted that actor Tom Hanks had died from the virus.

A White House official called the virus the "Kung-Flu" to CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang's face.

Trump offered German scientists "a billion dollars" for exclusive rights to a vaccine to be used "only for the USA". "Germany is not for sale," the country's economic affairs minister, Peter Altmaier, told a local broadcaster.

A video shot in 2018 emerged of Trump talking about cutting the US pandemic response team. He says: "Some of the people we've cut, they haven't been used for many, many years and if we ever need them we can get them very quickly, and rather then spending the money."

He added: "I'm a business person, I don't like having thousands of people around when you don't need them."

One of Trump's first moves to combat the biggest crisis of his presidency was to call on the first son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to lead the administration's response.

Kushner's CV before his Oval Office stint includes screwing up his financial disclosure forms more than three dozen times, and requiring a $2.5m pledge by his ex-con father to get into the college of his choice.

As soon as Trump received the keys to the White House in January 2017, Kushner and first daughter Ivanka have exploited their access to the president.

The New York Times reported the couple sat in on a meeting between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, even though Ivanka was at the time negotiating a branding deal with a company owned in part by the Japanese government.

After Ivanka appeared on 60 Minutes, her company sent out an advertisement for the $10,000 bracelet that she wore on air.

Vanity Fair lampooned Kushner's elevation to virologist-in-chief.

"Whereas last night you might have tossed and turned with fright about what the next days, weeks, and months could hold, tonight you'll sleep like a baby, content in the knowledge that everything is going to be fine. Scratch that, better than fine. Great, even. Because Jared Kushner is on the case."

Kurt Kloss, doctor and father of supermodel Karlie, put up a post on Facebook asking emergency-room physicians how they would combat the escalating coronavirus outbreak. He added: "I have direct channel to person now in charge at White House."

Kloss, whose daughter is married to Kushner's brother, later explained Kushner had asked him for recommendations.

The first son-in-law has been something of a go-to man for the president. So what are his successes so far? (Spoiler alert: there are none).

Trump dispatched Kushner to knock heads in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To ready himself for the job, Kushner boasted that he had read 25 books on the subject.

I've always viewed it as very serious ... This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic
US President, Donald Trump

Oh, and Benjamin Netanyahu was a family friend, so who better to tackle the most intractable conflict of the modern era?

Kushner's Middle East peace plan has been described as "the Monty Python sketch of Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives".

The Saudis, mostly in the form of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, soon identified the first son-in-law as their useful idiot.

According to The New York Times, Kushner got the prince to a formal lunch with Trump after German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancelled because of a snowstorm.

The bromance between the Saudi prince and the American one - mostly via WhatsApp - continues even after the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was executed and dismembered in the country's embassy in Istanbul in October 2018.

The CIA concluded that the murder was ordered by the crown prince.

Mohammed bin Salman is also the main figure behind the Saudi war against factions in neighbouring Yemen.

The kingdom has outsourced the blood-letting to as many as 14,000 Sudanese veterans of Darfur, many of them children. According to reports, Saudi overseers keep a safe distance from enemy fire by commanding the Sudanese fighters via remote control.

Cynicism and hypocrisy are old bedfellows in politics but there comes a time when sheets need laundering.

Trump delayed his initial decision on how to act against the coronavirus until Kushner "finishes his research and comes to a conclusion himself". One wit commented: "Maybe if he really wears out his library card in the epidemiology section he'll be able to crack this thing."

Kushner advised the president that media coverage exaggerated the threat. He also told his father-in-law not to call a national emergency because "it would tank the markets". The markets imploded anyway.

The White House's chief coronavirus adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, urged the US to move towards a national lock down similar to the actions taken by Italy and Spain. "I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticised for overreacting," Fauci said.

Treating the coronavirus as a public-relations crisis put Trump at odds with the medical community.

The president made his first public comments about the coronavirus on January22. The first American case had been announced the day before. An interviewer asked Trump: "Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?"

The president replied: "No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine." He mocked political opponents for hyping up a "hoax".

He repeatedly told the American public there was no cause to worry, until this week when the total number of US cases climbed to more than 7,500. He described the situation as one of wartime, fighting an "invisible enemy".

As the coronavirus figures rose dramatically this week, so too did Trump's tone. "I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president," he said. "I mean, that's what we're fighting. I mean, it's a very tough situation here."

He denied he had underplayed the seriousness of the pandemic.

"I've always viewed it as very serious. There was no difference yesterday from days before. I feel the tone is similar but some said it wasn't.

"This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."

Imagine if Ramaphosa appointed a son-in-law to solve conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and, when he botched it, put him in charge of an epidemic that could shape the next 100 years?

Imagine if our president had made outlandish and contradictory statements about the epidemic, blaming the press, the opposition and even the former president for the crisis?

There'd be a lot of toyi-toyiing in the streets.


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