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(First published on October 10, 2020)

Donald Trump has Covid. The United States president is considered the most powerful man on the planet. And yet a microbe infinitely smaller than him plunged the world’s pre-eminent power into a crisis. The seriousness of this crisis will probably never be known owing to the US media’s post-truth meltdown. The US President is around 74, the exact target demographic for the coronavirus’ exploits. He was soon shifted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, giving many the impression that he was not doing well. And while his doctors were trying to convince the American audience that his life was not in danger, his Chief of Staff was painting a different picture.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. It is true the advent of the Trump age has exposed some of the most bizarre questions never answered in the US political system. For instance, what happens when a foreign power openly meddles in your elections? What happens if a candidate refuses to concede? And what happens if the entire country has to shut down because of a virus highly contagious and lethal? As for Trump’s health, the American system still provides safeguards and a line of succession. But these other questions still await an answer.

The crisis was even bigger than this. Consider the three branches of government. The head of the executive who happens to be the country’s Commander in Chief is already infected. We later learned that the virus had reached the Pentagon high command because of a senior National Guard office bearer. Shutdown there too. And given the super spreader event that got the President infected is believed to be a packed nomination ceremony in honour of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the virus easily finds its way to both the US Congress and judiciary. And we know that at least two US senators are infected.

This crisis may not seem as severe as the scenario presented by the American television series, Designated Survivor, but this slow-moving beast could cause as much pain and suffering in the end. It is one thing to visualise a crisis and adopt it for television through a lazy creative process, totally another to face it in reality. As if this was not enough to panic, there is more. Since humanity has not found the cure for this disease the time is opportune to realise that this is a threat faced by every country in the world. Yes, even those which think they have survived or escaped the most brutal aspects of the crisis.

So, what are the key lessons here? Find a cure? Be cautious? Protect yourself? Yeah, sure. But they are not enough. Finding a cure is not as easy as it sounds. We have heard the US President, the Russian President, and many others for how close we are to developing a vaccine. There, however, are many issues with that position. First, that the microbe spreading this disease is a virus, the phantom that regularly defeats modern medical science. Unlike bacteria and other microbes, viruses are difficult to get rid of, are smart as hell, and quick to mutate. You develop a vaccine and a new strain soon evolves. Not only that. We still don’t know the long-term effect of the virus. There is no book on the subject that says that the virus harms you just in one way. How can we know the long-term effect of the disease when we have known it for less than a year? And since the length of clinical trials has been shortened in view of the global medical emergency, we will not learn about the long-term side effects of the vaccine for a long time.

The second lesson, prevention. We are witnessing some unimaginable scenes. The world’s most powerful men and women wearing masks all the time. Then the US vice presidential debate saw a plexiglass wall separating the two candidates and the moderator. Now a ferocious row has broken out between the Biden and Trump campaigns about the nature of the second debate. That is not all. Economies around the world were shut down fearing Covid spread. Now as they come back online it is important to remember that the threat hasn’t really gone away. I have already told you that I consider this neither a crisis of capital nor of demand. This is primarily a crisis of labour. Where a working man or woman cannot make it back to work either because of illness or fear of illness. History’s dark sense of humour is evident from the fact that this is exactly the time when most if not all jobs can easily be replaced with machines. Where you see human inevitability all you have to do is wait a few years and we will get there soon enough. This then becomes a true crisis of humanity.

The problem with the idea of prevention is that it is an untenable position. There is enough poverty in the world on its own that you cannot demand a total and permanent shift of lifestyle. This leads us to the third and most frightening proposal — of survival of the fittest poorly disguised as the debate on purported herd immunity. Herd immunity is misdirection because data on the length of post-Covid immunity is not just inconclusive, it is weaponised by polarisation in a way that you will never reach a conclusion. You cannot make policies on the basis of hunches. Shamans and godmen may rise who lead you in one direction or the other but the truth is they will inevitably be telling you to let a significant portion of the world population go. If my study of scriptures of numerous faiths has taught me anything, it is that God, of any faith, wouldn’t want you to go in this direction.

And if you think that in Donald Trump, the US power, and in Covid, the entire humanity, has found their match. Pray think again. This is just the entrance of the tunnel. The journey only gets bleaker from hereon. Bigger challenges will be faced by humanity, democracy, the US, you, and I.

Is there any antidote? A one-size-fits-all solution? Sadly, I do not have any. But I know where it may come from. You. Not you, the person. But you, the people. There are seven and a half billion human beings in the world. They all are endowed with nature’s unique marvel, the supercomputer we call the human brain. When combined together this is one hell of a processing power. Sadly, however, we are allowing petty politics and reductionist ideologies to create more divisions. This will need the US, China, Russia, Muslim countries, India, Latin America, Africa, and the rest of the world to survive in the new world we have just entered. Since we are still embroiled in the Cold War mentality, many leaders around the world will want to exploit the situation for personal or political gains. This calls for a new kind of global leadership mindset which can both retard such negative impulses and build a common response. Failing this, just remember, the worst is yet to come.

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