Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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14 Apr 2020 : Total Authority = Total Responsibility

I wake to see a series of Tweets from the USA, all from people watching Trump’s 13 April press conference with various shades of anger and disbelief. He seems to be fully out of control now. I can’t help myself and watch the CNN livestream. As somebody points out, the banners CNN puts up under POTUS through the press conference mark his extraordinary statements, which are bizarre and extraordinary. First up, Banner 1 states: ‘ANGRY TRUMP TURNS BRIEFING INTO A PROPOGANDA SESSION’. Banner 2: ‘TRUMP USES TASK FORCE TO TRY AND REWRITE HISTORY ON CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE’. Banner 3: ‘TRUMP MELTS DOWN IN ANGER AT REPORTS HE IGNORED VIRUS WARNINGS’. And Banner 4: ‘TRUMP ATTACKS MEDIA AFTER SERIES OF REPORTS HE IGNORED WARNINGS OF VIRUS SPREAD’. The contempt drips off the screen.

The whole thing is unwatchable, but I find myself unable to turn it off. He is petulant, angry, and worst of all self-pitying. He plays a campaign video to a the audience, people sitting down to watch the Pythonesque proceedings on the screen. Throughout all this the journalists are serially flabbergasted at what they are hearing and seeing from the POTUS. Then it comes to the point where the CNN journalist grills him about plans and capacity as President to order governors to reopen the economy and their states.  He states that his ‘authority is total’. When further challenged on this he waffles evasively:

“You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to write up papers on this. It’s not going to be necessary. Because the governors need us one way or the other. Because ultimately it comes with the federal government. That being said we’re getting along very well with the governors, and I feel very certain that there won’t be a problem.”

One reporter asks him bluntly at some point what the administration was doing for the whole of February. This I feel is devastating. Against this backdrop we have Stephen Walt in the Guardian expressing dismay at loss of face, loss of power, and loss of hegemony by the United States, Trump squarely being blamed. From Walt, an arch Realist scholar, this is quite something.

After all this US news feed I make an omelette with last few remaining eggs. It tastes divine, and I must say my cooking is returning to student level, getting by on fresh air and random items. But we have money and can order food deliveries. Many are not so lucky. Many international students stuck in Australia have literally been abandoned by the Australian state. They are queuing at food banks. The impact on the Australian HE sector downstream will be enormous. Still, I got an omelette to gird me for the compulsive need to check what statistics have been delivered overnight. I find it increasingly hard to use the diary to look inwards, with a desire just to report what I see and read being a bit destructive of this conceptual approach of professional and personal.

Unfortunately the inevitable is now happening everywhere. But the present hotspot, and the country seemingly falling of a cliff, is Indonesia. There is going to be real widespread tragedy there soon, and the health system is simply not up to the scale of this. I think of all the lovely Indonesian MPH students I taught, all now in careers that will put them in terrible danger. The modellers in Indonesia are predicting a looming spike of some 250,000, possibly linked with the post-Ramadan exit. That will really start off what many commentators are warning could be the biggest hit COVID country. Added to this dismal news, regions in India are now reporting surges of hospital emissions, and I am sure those migrant workers who returned to villages are now often caught up in new tragedies. Horrible. Singapore also back in the frame with 386 new cases. It will be shut down again soon I am sure.

On a non-COVID note, the cyclone damage in Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga is looking really awful. It is getting almost zero attention here. I wonder if the regional aid infrastructure will respond and step up, or are we all just going to turn in to our own problems? Tess Newton Cain is scathing about Australian worries with the quality of hotel room lock downs in the face of this disaster. Villages have been obliterated. What a year this is.


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