Waiting for Godzilla: Coronavirus and the End of Disbelief

Donald Trump, it turns out, is just the man for this moment for all the wrong reasons. 

Lisa Van Dusen

March 15, 2020


If the coronavirus pandemic were a disaster movie, COVID-19 would be an epically dystopian weapon of mass destruction unleashed as part of a crackpot world domination plot designed to bring the last non-authoritarian superpower to its knees socially, psychologically and economically and drive a stake through the heart of democracy once and for all.

Of course, because this is reality, Donald J. Trump is leader of the free if self-isolating world and we can all sleep soundly in our beds knowing that the commander in chief of the United States of America, the indispensable nation, the linchpin of the rules-based international order, has this well in hand.

If we think of this as one of those hinges of history when a president rises to the occasion because so many of the elements of public and private life — the emergency powers, the hoarding, the lineups outside supermarkets, the propaganda — replicate the sense of collective fear and uncertainty of wartime, we think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt exhorting that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” in declaring war on the Depression, Harry Truman’s blanket “The buck stops here” declaration of executive responsibility. Along with those words marshalled in the face of an adversary, a crisis or questions about leadership, history can swallow Trump’s declaration last Friday, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

This should surprise precisely no-one. Trump, it turns out, is the perfect president for the moment. Everything he has said and done since January 20th, 2017, has been seemingly formulated — because you simply cannot lie that often and outrage that consistently unintentionally — to squander the credibility of the office and rationalize mismanagement, recklessness and idiocy on any scale imaginable.

Which means whatever consequences arise from this avoidably escalated crisis — economic, social, political, geopolitical — will be explicable only in the context of his tenure. For that, the world has not the coronavirus, the electoral college, 2016 election interference, fake news or Trump himself to blame but the Republicans in the Senate who placed the most astronomically, cynically leveraged calculation of political expediency in history ahead of the public good in refusing to remove him from office.

What we can thank Trump — and his new world order counterparts from Boris to Bolsonaro — for is the incremental, systematic manner in which the daily content drip of his norm-breaking, reality show preposterousness has recalibrated public expectations for whatever may come by boosting our herd immunity to the previously unthinkable.

If this contagion had hit under any previous president of the United States, the management of it — domestic and international — would have unfolded quite differently. Every failure, screw-up, incomprehensible cutback and gratuitous lie wouldn’t have had a scapegoat and every disproportionately fateful decision wouldn’t have had a fig leaf. That he is a fig leaf who has so frequently acted against the interests of his own country — other than a few chaos beneficiaries, including that long-suffering, voiceless minority known as short-sellers — makes him all the more valuable in a catastrophe to all the wrong parties.

Now, after three years of utterly unnecessary dumpster fires, sh*tshows, clusterf**ks and sideshows, disaster and horror movies are looking like documentaries. And, with apologies to Beckett, we’re all just waiting for Godzilla.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.