This is England. Today I am doing my six mile run mid morning, my first time since Saturday that I ran at a “sane” hour (i.e., not 5 a.m.). On Saturday I counted no less than fifteen other runners, by far a record. They were on the roads that day because Boris Johnson had just closed the gyms the previous night. Today I count not a single one, apart from myself, a startling contrast. This time Boris Johnson closed the world.
I do see the occasional, though rare, couple walking side by side, given special dispensation by the government because they occupy the same domicile. Otherwise it’s individual dog walkers or nature seekers walking solo. I give them a wide berth. I do see one stranger come near another. A gloved postwoman stands as far away as she can and stretches forward on tiptoes to deliver a small parcel to a woman on the other side of a low hedge. There is almost no vehicular traffic, at most one or two cars, not the platoons of vehicles that are usual for this time of day.
I remind myself I’m on the fuzzy edge of danger. I’m 64 years old with type II diabetes. If I come down with it I have a better chance of dying than most. That fact, that seemed impossibly distant to me a week ago, is lent a new surreal realism, if that makes sense. In other words it’s personal, and for all its demonstrable faults, this government is taking me, and others like me, seriously.
I begin the first 5k of my run in 34 minutes and finish the second in 28. It’s a self test I planned. I have no idea if I could have done that while infected with COVID-19, but I’m pretty sure that if I couldn’t do it then something must be wrong. So it’s a kind of a half test that I pass.
The day is bright and cloudless but cold. A typical early Spring day in England. It is eerily silent. I’m listening to a talking book rendition of Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” over the narrator’s voice I can hear my own breathing and the tap tap tap of my feet along the pavement. It doesn’t feel right without brooding skies or a cold wind. It feels like apocalypse on a budget.
After my run and shower on the TV are the government updates. Ministers stand at podiums judiciously staged at least two meters (about six feet) apart. Reporters are ranged in a gallery at strict two meter intervals. Parliament still meets, but the two meter protocols are strictly observed there too. There is talk of instituting electronic voting and debates by Skype. For now everyone sets an example.
Then there’s America. The president of the United States, in a Rose Garden “town hall,” has just referred to his rival as “sleepy Joe,” while wondering aloud if Mr. Biden even knows what the word “xenophobia” means, even though the president doesn’t know how to pronounce it. He calls it “zen-ophobia.” He talks of reopening America in time for Easter, which is nineteen days away as he speaks. He is giving the virus a deadline. The virus must get out of town by high noon Easter. There’s a new sheriff in town. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Et cetera.
Republicans rally behind the buffoon-in-chief with frightened and frightening silence. Only the odd idiot is willing to open his mouth for Trump. Texas millionaire and “born again Christian” lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, in a cowardly tour de force of virtue signalling, says he’s willing to risk his life to get America back on track. Patrick, who will be 70 in April, can risk his life with my blessing. Unfortunately, he’s willing to risk the lives of others not as lucky as he, others who cannot hide behind the shield of wealth and white privilege, others who cannot afford doctors.
Meanwhile Fox News and other stupid people with power, like actor Kirstie Alley, echo Trump talking points. They make a fatal error and confuse bluff and bluster with science. The virus is impervious to political opinion. It cannot be prayed away, it recognizes no race or political affiliation. Objective truth won’t bend to your will. It responds to no deadlines. It doesn’t exist to punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous. It just is, and it will infect you and make you very, very sick, and even possibly kill you, no matter who you are.
Meanwhile the 1.5 trillion dollar tax break Republicans gave to the rich and their failure to provide affordable healthcare for all Americans is coming home to roost. Even as I typed this, Republican lawyers are filing motions to repeal the Affordable Care Act and deprive millions of Americans of healthcare. If Trump has his way those lawyers will be able to return to court after Easter to continue their fight.
Thanks to Donald Trump and the fools who follow him, there is a very good chance that as many as 80% of Americans will contract COVID-19. If so, then as many as 5.6 million American will die. That is almost two thousand times as many people who perished in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. That is the price that Donald Trump and his Republican cronies are willing to pay for money. His decision will also imperil the rest of us in the rest of the world, and turn this crisis that could have been contained in a few months into a worldwide calamity that could last for years.
That is why Donald Trump must go. This is no longer a political fight. It’s a fight for civilization. As people of all countries and continents become more desperate, things will turn ugly. Donald Trump must go.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.