Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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24 May 2020 : COVANGRY Day

I’m having a COVANGRY day and don’t even know where to start. The age of populism is also the age of stupidity and moral failure, it seems perfectly clear. As official COVID-related deaths in the USA tip toward the 100,000 mark, the POTUS chose this moment to go golfing. Brazil is also in real dangerous waters and sees a President respond to the urge for a hot dog, and just go out and get one. All this as the Chair of the Bexar region GOP in Texas makes a public statement that COVID is a hoax being perpetrated by the Democrats. She is cheered by a small group of supporters who nod enthusiastically during her statement. Bexar covers the San Antonio city area, which is Texas’ second largest city and America’s seventh largest. After concluding her speech she took off her mask and hugged everyone. This on the same day that the New York Times devotes its entire front page to COVID victims, and in a week where the USA recorded 156,000 new cases. In that same week Brazil recorded 78,000 new cases (official ones at least). Reopen America is still very much at the forefront of debate at the state and Federal level, and Bolsonaro is putting the economy first. People are chanting 'chlor-ro-quine! chlor-ro-quine!' at Bolsonaro rallies, and the MAGA brigade are still roaming state capitols armed and angry for lockdowns to be eased.

In the UK, the Conservative party is increasing in tatters internally, with only a thin veil of cohesion and a shred of single public facing messaging intact. The latest of many high profile disasters centres on Dominic Cummings, the odious and dangerous senior political advisor to Johnson. With a COVID infected wife some weeks ago, he drove with her and kids from London to Durham (some 260 miles) so that his elderly parents and young niece could take care of the children. In doing so, he broke quarantine rules and was caught out for this by the local police. To add insult to this basic lack of regard to the rules binding UK public, he was not as yet displaying symptoms, but was prepared to endanger others and his parents so that the kids could be cared for by others, and not him. He is defended by others in the Cabinet, by Raab and Gove and so on. Gove states that ‘caring for a wife and child is no crime’. The Tory party is apparently seething regarding this incident, but also the shambles that persists in Government and its approach to governing the virus.

The problem with all these instances is that the public is already getting restless and many want to be out and about themselves. People are voting with their feet and packing beaches and public spaces in the UK and the USA. In Brazil many turn out to see the President, while many of the poor have to keep on working. If those in power are playing golf, eating hot dogs, or visiting elderly parent for care, why can’t the rest of us? The messaging is appalling and morally bankrupt and will lead  to deaths, while also frustrating attempts to control the virus. Accountability is also rapidly eroding in these three countries at least, and indefensible actions and disaster decisions are roundly supported, albeit with support for populist leadership fraying in cabinets and parties.

I suspect they are also misjudging the wider public mood, which must view personal sacrifices of jobs, social and family contact, and of lives, as all being spat on so publicly by the elites serving themselves and not others. The levels of hypocrisy and blame shifting ratchet up daily and seem to know no bounds of shame or morality. History is really going to haunt these figures, because their actions mean that the virus will not go away, and nor will time be bought by political self-preservation of chaotic stupidity. If these idiots survive this fallout then we have completely lost any chance of transformation or even simple democratic accountability.

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