We shouldn't have to endure COVID-19 plus Trump's ravings

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President Donald Trump, joined by Vice-President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 coronavirus task force, delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press during a coronavirus update briefing Thursday, April 16, 2020. Image: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House/Flickr

The chaos inside Trump's head. It's unfair that people enduring so much must also cope with the chaos inside Trump's head. A Finnish teacher-trainer once explained why some teachers can't control their classes. "It reflects the chaos in the teacher's head," she said.

Trump's most astute biographer, Michael D'Antonio, says his "lack of emotional intelligence and empathy … causes him to struggle to relate to human suffering." He's "so attuned to his own feelings" that he's "numb to the pain of others."

He can't recognize that others exist for independent reasons; to him, they're there solely to magnify or hinder his need for acclaim and worship. So when a reporter begins a question, he can't hold back, he breaks in hysterically if criticism is implied. Why? Everyone exists only to adore or torment him.

Equally remarkable is how people -- reporters, Fauci, Pence -- sense this and tolerate it. It isn't just because he's president, it's because he's crazy. It's how you'd treat any raving lunatic in the street. You don't engage them, it's pointless, you let it flow and try to ignore it. The most you'd do, if necessary, is solicit professional assessment and have them committed.

Some of his raving clearly resonates. His chaos represents the chaos we all sometimes fear lurks just under the veneer of social order. He amplifies that sense. Especially in the U.S., he mirrors a deep fear that unworthy others -- minorities, women -- will take advantage of "our" hard work to commandeer health care and other benefits.

He's not Everyman but he's the darkest corner in Everyman's head. In Trump it's his entire self. That's why D'Antonio said, compassionately, "If you're a human being, be glad you're not Donald Trump."

His solipsism is also his saving grace. He's no fascist. He lacks the ideology and organizational sense. He can't keep track of a press conference, much less program a nation. He could become a dictator and it'd be catastrophic but he'd be Nero or Caligula, not Hitler. OTOH, if Nero actually fiddled as Rome burned or Caligula collected his tears in a tear catcher, at least people didn't have to hear the music, watch the facial contortions or listen to the inane ravings.

Just in time vs. just in case. The neoliberal watchword of globalization is Just in Time: don't produce till the last minute, to amass cash and maximize profits. It's the opposite of what a pandemic requires: Just in Case preparation well beforehand, in case it happens although it may not. So Doug Ford's Ontario cut way back on long-term care and inspections, hoping to act "nimbly" if need arose. Then it did and they didn't. Why? You have to get ready to be ready.

If you aren't, you're stuck with the "blunderbuss" of physical distancing rather than the fine instrument of testing, which has to already be in place before the first signs of pandemic emerge, unlike just-in-time thinking.

Who is ready? For 60 years, Cuba has dropped highly specialized medical teams into disaster areas and war zones, saving numerous lives. Did they also hope for some diplomatic returns? You betcha. But that can't be what motivates the teams that risk their lives. Name another poor country under a strangulating blockade that's done anything comparable.

Now some Manitoba First Nations have requested a Cuban team so they don't have to send their sick to cities, but they require visas. Chrystia Freeland said no, we can handle it ourselves. Let's hope so. Perhaps Doctors without Borders, which is sending a team to help the homeless in Toronto, could fill the role. They'd be less likely to irritate Trump or embarrass Freeland.

China has also sent much COVID-19 aid out, no doubt with some self-interest too. Their boxes arrived in Argentina with the flags of both nations and a line from a the beloved epic poem, Martin Fierro. The aid to Italy had a Latin quote from Seneca and Spain's included a Spanish proverb. You don't have to be genuinely empathic to make this kind of gesture. It can be calculated, self-serving and insincere. But you need to at least know what empathy is and what you'd sound like if you had it.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House/Flickr

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