Pandemic diary (Chapter 4): The president who spread a political virus

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. He dwelled in his home in Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha, but he was never far from the drama of global Covid-19 news, beamed in from TV and computer screens. The pomposity of one politician stood out — in the face of a life-threatening disease, how could the leader of the world’s largest economy and even the league of nations have set such a poor example and gotten away with it?
People look at a billboard showing former US President Donald Trump in Times Square in New York, US, 14 October 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
People look at a billboard showing former US President Donald Trump in Times Square in New York, US, 14 October 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

15 May 2020

I watch the news every day, starting with local Hong Kong news in the morning, then American news at night, to know what’s happening around the world. I also catch some news reports from across the Atlantic to have a balanced understanding of the current state of the world.

Over the past couple of months, news, especially reports on the Covid-19 situation in the US, has been very confusing, depressing and confounding. What baffles me is that the US is the most technologically advanced country in the world with top-notch medical standards. How did over 1.5 million people get infected with the coronavirus and over 90,000 people die from it?

What’s worse, the numbers are increasing exponentially every day, as if the coronavirus disease will not let the US off without leaving thousands of crosses in its cemeteries. It makes people question if the US’s advanced medical technologies and public health policies are just beautiful on the outside but actually futile on the inside — like a fake silver spear head made with lesser metals — and just something that the ultra-rich enjoy? 

How the US, leader of the world, was defeated by Covid

What’s depressing is, the US is a pacesetter for democratic societies and a model of a capitalist economy. Why does it seem like the coronavirus is a mighty force of destruction, effortlessly destroying the wealthiest country in the world? It is as if the coronavirus portends doom, exposing the cruelty and desolation hidden behind the prosperous songs of a democratic society. And Trump seems to have taken psychedelic drugs and become delirious himself, calling all Americans to demonstrate on the streets — at the risk of them getting infected — just so the economy can reopen. As for whether people will get infected and die, he announced, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead, he blames it on the Chinese.

People raise flags in support of Donald Trump in the air at the Michigan State Capitol on 12 October 2021 in Lansing, Michigan, US. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images/AFP)
People raise flags in support of Donald Trump in the air at the Michigan State Capitol on 12 October 2021 in Lansing, Michigan, US. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images/AFP)

Although my life experiences are limited, I have, after all, lived in Taiwan for 20 years, lived in the US for 30 years, and have been living in Hong Kong for over 20 years. Compared with the average person, my personal experiences are a bit richer as I have seen and experienced the world. I have interacted with people from all walks of life and understand the various American social classes and democratic ideals.

The first principle of democratic participation is to provide the majority of the people with a happy life free of material deprivation, spiritual persecution, and naturally, turmoil, chaos and death. A political leader is elected in the hope that he can unite the various social classes and interest groups so that people can lead secure lives and society can have peace. Everyone will then have the opportunity to develop their personal capabilities, promote the sustainable development of science and art, and create a better future for mankind. 

A healthy democratic society would never elect a president who tears society apart through fights and battles like a fighter in a ring, loudly proclaiming that he’s number one and punching anyone who dared to challenge his position. This president fights the heavens, the earth, humans, the coronavirus and medical experts. He fights non-stop, as if his passion is fighting.

I was born too late and missed the era of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. I have only heard that madmen could be elected via democratic elections, and have now personally witnessed for myself Trump’s “impeccable” performance in this aspect. Someday when the pandemic finally goes away, I just hope that enough Americans will be sober enough to understand that this is certainly not Trump’s victory over the medical profession nor the favourable outcome of yet another one of his battles. I hope that they will not take this “victory” one step further and blindly follow this maniacal leader in courting war and death.

How could there be such a president who asks his people to treat their lives as a joke? What’s most depressing is that over 40% of Americans actually support such a madman and want him re-elected.

A supporter of former US President Donald Trump holds a sign as others gather outside the Michigan State Capitol to demand an audit of 2020 election votes, in Lansing, Michigan, US, 12 October 2021. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
A supporter of former US President Donald Trump holds a sign as others gather outside the Michigan State Capitol to demand an audit of 2020 election votes, in Lansing, Michigan, US, 12 October 2021. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Since the Second World War, the national policy of the US has been one of respecting science and strengthening national power through the scientific exploration of new knowledge. Generations of US presidents generally trust the professional judgements of scientists and will not subjectively think that they will produce ridiculously high crop yields by simply yelling “launch satellites”.

Disregarding science

But this time, things are different. 

At first, Trump said that the coronavirus would “miraculously” go away within a couple of days. When the coronavirus ignored his prediction and took away tens of thousands of lives, he then said that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could help prevent coronavirus infection, ignoring warnings from medical experts cautioning that these drugs could cause heart problems. He later said that disinfectants could kill the coronavirus, and suggested that people inject disinfectants into their bodies as treatment.

Anyone in the right mind would know that ingesting pesticides is equivalent to committing suicide. Injecting disinfectants into the body could also put one at death’s door. How could there be such a president who asks his people to treat their lives as a joke? What’s most depressing is that over 40% of Americans actually support such a madman and want him re-elected. However, such things happened in the past as well. Hitler had also been elected by the people to become Germany’s chancellor, and the Holocaust was also the result of roaring support from the Germans and Austrians.

A woman waves a US flag and a flag in support of Donald Trump at the Michigan State Capitol on 12 October 2021 in Lansing, Michigan, US. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images/AFP)
A woman waves a US flag and a flag in support of Donald Trump at the Michigan State Capitol on 12 October 2021 in Lansing, Michigan, US. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images/AFP)

American media and intellectuals are concerned about this situation. They are not only worried about the Covid-19 pandemic that is claiming countless lives, but are even more worried that the “political virus” that Trump is spreading will mislead the people. Trump only cares about Wall Street and economic growth to show that he has governed the country well. Anybody who dares to criticise his irrational policies or oppose his decisions, especially medical experts, will be done for. I’m really worried. Will he be re-elected this November? And will there be a terrible political plague?

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Science and politics are the two brightest golden beacons of modern civilisation. They shine so brightly that our eyes hurt, just as they would after seeing Moses’s radiant face after his conversation with God. We believe that science will bring about improvements and creature comforts, and think that medical discoveries will lengthen our lives and make us healthier. We even think that advanced state-of-the-art medical equipment will make us immortal.

The light of science is so warm and so kind. It follows us wherever we go, whenever we wear clothes, eat food and drink beverages made with modern technology, and when we live in houses built with modern architecture. The cars we drive to work in, how we commute on subways and even when we ride a bike — everything is a product of modern technology. These prove that our lives in the 21st century are glorious and carefree. We wave banners of science and patriotism as we strut down the happiness runway to the tune of rock music blasting out of our Apple iPhones. 

A supporter of former US President Donald Trump holds a sign outside the Michigan State Capitol to demand an audit of 2020 election votes, in Lansing, Michigan, US, 12 October 2021. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
A supporter of former US President Donald Trump holds a sign outside the Michigan State Capitol to demand an audit of 2020 election votes, in Lansing, Michigan, US, 12 October 2021. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

The light of politics is even more omnipresent. With the rapid development of communication technology, the light of politics has long surpassed what’s described in George Orwell’s 1984; it seeps into every nerve of our brain cells, and implants automatically controlled chips in secret. Apart from recording the fluctuations of our thoughts and emotions every second, it also instructs us to raise our fists in demonstration through big data analyses and secret weapons made from ultra-microwaves and dark matter. It commands us to batter the people originally living in harmony and tear apart all the bonds in society to achieve a grand goal that even the leader himself does not understand.

Burning the Amazon rainforest, melting the polar ice caps, annihilating tens of thousands of species on planet Earth, forcing the people to submit and call you number one… For what? To satisfy the insatiable greed of the upper class? To pander to delusional leaders who think that they are politically correct? To fulfil lofty ideals such as freedom and democracy and become the most superior of all? When science and politics are combined, and science becomes subject to the control and lead of politics, unleashing the unlimited potential of the human mind, we begin to feel anxious. Our happiness turns into a changing aurora like a nightmare that has turned into a cage, trapping us in and giving us no means of escape.

Science ruled by politics

Following the coronavirus outbreak, medical science that is supposed to treat the sick has also become a borderless political battlefield. Although Trump can’t govern the country and contain the coronavirus, it seems as if he is particularly adept at mutually assured destruction. He is not scared of anyone, and his ability to wreak havoc is no less than the fascist Blackshirts back in the day.

While the whole world is concerned with tackling the coronavirus, Trump is instead turning mankind’s living environment into an international airport publicising “America First” where “heavy bombers” drop political viruses in our midst. He drops bombs periodically, sometimes declaring that the warnings of medical experts are incorrect, and other times saying that he knows science the best so the people should take anti-malaria drugs and inject disinfectants into the body to treat the coronavirus.

I initially brushed it off as merely listening to the ramblings of a gangster and treating it as an ill-mannered kid throwing a tantrum, mischievously playing with his toy gun and screaming at the top of his lungs. It’s someone else’s kid after all, how could I discipline him? Even if he grew up to become a gangster or a criminal and ended up behind bars for the rest of his life, that is also none of my business. It is not worth overstepping my authority and taking matters into my own hands by asking the kid to stop making noise.

Guests arrive for a rally with former President Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on 9 October 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa, US. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)
Guests arrive for a rally with former President Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on 9 October 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa, US. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

But the frustrating thing is, Trump is the US president. He not only dictates health policies but also commands all military branches of the US armed forces, aircraft carriers and atomic bombs. It is almost as if he is Chiyou’s (蚩尤) brother and has the body of a beast and speaks like a human, in addition to having a bronze head and iron forehead and eating sand and rocks — nobody can afford to offend him.

Trump plays politics in the same way he opens casinos — with the pioneering and adventurous spirit of opening up the wild west.

The scientists can only rule the roost in their laboratories, talking about asteroid collisions in the future, saying that eating red meat can cause cancer but also asking people to take meat to supplement essential protein, and suggesting that not absorbing enough fats and cholesterol will lead to brain shrinkage. In the face of a pandemic however, medical teams are risking their lives and rushing to the frontline to save lives.

But nobody plays politics like the US president; he stands tall and looks far indeed, being only concerned with how he is to get re-elected during the presidential election in November. That is, by letting Wall Street rise so that the badly-hit economy can recover, but not reminding the people that this is making a choice between the god of wealth and the god of death, and that one is playing a round of Russian roulette, a self-destructive act.      

Trump plays politics in the same way he opens casinos — with the pioneering and adventurous spirit of opening up the wild west. As for science, it is but a game of Russian roulette; who cares which side the dice lands on. Trump doesn’t care about the deaths of the people because he already said that there is nothing to lose. That’s right — the dealers never lose; they only win.

Related: Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The best antidote for surviving the pandemic | Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The power of the individual during a pandemic | Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: Life and death are predestined, and wealth and poverty are heaven’s arrangement | Trump's America needs to ditch the blame game | How could democracy yield a leader like Trump?