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And a plague shall cover the land of Trump


The anti-Trump lobby views Covid as divine retribution for the masses’ blasphemy against experts.

This is a moment that ‘feels Biblical’, says Maureen Dowd at the New York Times. She is talking, of course, about President Trump being struck down by the plague, by Covid. Going full Leviticus, Dowd marvels at the karmic retribution of this chief doubter of Covid now being infected by Covid, of this blasphemer against experts now suffering the fate that experts warned would befall him if he didn’t comply with their rituals of mask-wearing and lockdowns. ‘The implacable virus has come to his door’, Dowd writes, giving Covid-19 sentience, power almost: the power to smite its unbelievers. Implacable: that means something which cannot be appeased. That’s Covid, apparently: the insatiable beast, the terrible god, who will brook no questioning.

Dowd isn’t the only Trump-basher getting all Biblical over Covid’s visitation upon the White House. Across the commentariat and the Twittersphere there is much Schadenfreude that the man who scoffed at the idea that he should change his entire life in response to a virus must now meekly, weakly watch as the virus has ‘come to his door’. ‘It’s hard to overlook the symbolism of Trump’s positive test’, says one writer. The president who ‘recklessly and flagrantly disregarded science and factual information’ has had his viral comeuppance. We have some ‘justification’ for considering Trump’s contraction of coronavirus ‘to be a kind of karmic retribution’, says a writer for the Guardian. It is retribution, he suggests, for Trump’s ‘irresponsible pursuit of partisan advantage over the national interest’.

‘Karmic retribution’ is of course only a slightly more PC, hippyish way to say what people in medieval times thought about plagues: that they were divine punishment. Punishment of avaricious individuals or of entire sinful communities. A key metaphor in this pre-modern understanding of plagues-as-retribution was that these judgmental diseases were inescapable. No one – not Pharaohs, not the wealthy, not even a reality-TV star who becomes the most powerful man in the world – could hide from their pox-ridden reprimands. As Susan Sontag writes in her masterful AIDS and its Metaphors (1989), the pre-modern view of disease as retribution was an ‘essential vehicle for the most pessimistic reading’ of humanity’s capacity. ‘[T]he standard plague story was of inexorability, inescapability’, she wrote. This insistence on inescapability, on the plague as discoverer of all sinners, wherever they cower and lurk, infuses the cynically joyous commentary on Trump’s illness. ‘Fate leads the willing, Seneca said, while the unwilling get dragged’, writes Dowd. Fate. That pre-Renaissance idea. It’s back.

This is all ‘karmic irony’, says a writer for CNN. In this ‘plague year’, he says, ‘the president who downplayed the pandemic for so long and dismissed the wearing of masks has come down with the disease’. The inhabitants of the Twittersphere have been even more unrestrained in their pre-modern relish at Trump’s smiting by coronavirus, including a former staffer for Hillary Clinton, who said she hopes he dies. Well, he deserves to, right, for his blasphemous questioning of the seriousness of Covid and the efficacy of masking and locking down? In the words of Dowd, the most retributive of the new priestly class, ‘the president’s pernicious deceptions [have] boomeranged against him’. Nancy Pelosi says Trump’s bristling against expert advice on Covid was a ‘brazen invitation’ to the sickness to visit his own home. Question and ye shall be visited…

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