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Populism is put to the test, and the early results do not look good

Those familiar with “The Man in the High Castle” will have no trouble imagining Trump as a wartime president. In that Philip K. Dick novel (and recent TV series) America exits World War II under the control of victorious Germany and Japan. For those of you who are not students of history, that’s not the way it turned out, but if someone as inept as Trump had been president in the forties, we’d be speaking less English than we are today.

Before he anoints himself our wartime president, Trump might be wise to look up what it has been like historically to govern a country during wartime. If he doesn’t want to use former presidents as a model (in his fever dream of himself, none of them are as wise, competent, and skillful as he) then he might want to model his behavior after Winston Churchill. England’s survival in the early months of World War II was due in no small part to the emotional leadership of Churchill—to his ability to rally the citizens to do things that seemed beyond them. Here everything is beyond our wooden and shambling president.

And what’s worse, we have a troupe of untrained and inexperienced public servants as his support staff—yes-men, yes-women, and relatives in whose hands we have by necessity placed ourselves, only to have the president smirk that the government is not a shipping clerk.

He bandies about rumors of a cure, exaggerates the due date of a vaccine, and continues to gather people in close proximity for his meaningless and often incomprehensible reports during which he continues to treat any critical question as some sort of sacrilege. I don’t know if everyone feels the way I do, but there are times during the day when I think we might get through this; then I listen to the president interrupt the experts and sidestep health care professionals with his stupid hunches and Fox News rumors, and realize that if we get through it, it will be in spite of, and not because of him.

Across the Atlantic his protégé Boris Johnson has been lax in closing pubs and restaurants and has treated this plague in much the same way that Trump did before he was told to simulate concern. Now England is suffering. If there were ever a time to question the efficacy of so-called populism, it’s right now. You want the ordinary people to be in charge? Now’s the time for them to build ventilators and manufacture respirators and make masks for health care professionals. And if they can’t, then it’s time they got out of the way, took their president with them, and let the people who understand government run that government.

America has risen above itself so many times that the ability to do that is ingrained in us. Only now do we realize that our accomplishments were often the result of a functioning federal government rallying us to go above and beyond. We do not currently have one of those, and with impeachment having failed, we won’t for many months to come.

We are, in the end, cities and states on their own—battling day to day—hoping the president doesn’t kill us all.

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