Shortly after World War II, a film called “The War of the Worlds” depicted the invasion of Earth by space aliens fleeing their dying planet to conquer ours. It became a cult classic and even survived a Tom Cruise remake.
The aliens were far more technologically advanced than we were, and it soon became clear that human extinction was their first order of business. Resistance was futile; our most powerful weapons were easily deflected. Just when all seemed hopeless, however, the aliens themselves began to die off in their spaceships. They hadn’t counted on the tiniest of opponents, something far more potent than humans: a virus to which we ourselves had developed immunity, but the aliens hadn’t expected. They perished. Earth was saved.
Could the fantasy come true in 2020? Could a mere virus stop Donald Trump?
I don’t want to suggest that Trump is a space alien, although he is certainly alien to the life form known as democracy. He had a simple plan for conquest, or if you prefer the term, reelection. He gathered a loyal following and took over a political party as its host. It wasn’t a majority, but then majorities often don’t elect. You get and keep a base large enough, and attract enough other voters who don’t really care who runs the country as long as their 401(k) plans look good. Throw in a few Russian bots, polling stations in minority districts that close early and a quaint system called the Electoral College which, uniquely on planet Earth, awards victory to the loser of the popular vote, and you have the Trump formula. Add a political opposition bent on denying its own most popular candidate a presidential nomination, and the formula looks like a winner.
All you have to do is keep the economy going until Nov. 3.
Trump had been doing this by goosing the stock market with tax cuts for the rich and pressuring the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low. True, the world economy had begun to slow down. But, absent unforeseen disaster, Trump had enough tricks in his toolkit to keep the stock market afloat till Election Day.
Then came the unforeseen disaster: Coronavirus.
Unforeseen, but not unforeseeable. We’ve had a rolling series of pandemics or near-pandemics in the past couple of decades: SARS, MERS, Ebola and more. They are a predictable consequence of globalization, with its frenetic worldwide travel and commerce and its chaotic lack of product and medical regulation. Coronavirus is actually a class of viruses, with the new current strain apparently the product of an open-air Chinese market in the city of Wuhan, which, with rotting animal species hung side by side, was a perfect laboratory for viral mutation and infection. China is not the only place with such markets. They are common, and the general overcrowding, untreated waste and overall toxicity of the cities in developing countries, compounded by the floodwaters of climate change, make more pandemics inevitable. If we wanted to turn the world over to the viruses, we couldn’t be doing a much better job.
The Coronavirus strain we have on hand now, COVID-19, is relatively mild so far if reported mortality rates are to be trusted (coming mostly from China, they aren’t). But a few dozen cases in America at the time of writing, with a single announced fatality to date, was enough to send the Wall Street market into its biggest tumble last week since the crash of 2008. The massive worldwide disruption of production, transportation, and marketing already underway is bound to produce a major recession, at least until a vaccine is developed and (another matter entirely) effectively distributed.
It’s terrible news, in short, and general panic makes it worse. But there may be at least one silver lining. It could rid us of Donald John Trump. If our own economy falters enough, it might very well tip the tide against him in the November elections. Apart from souring the electorate, Trump will find himself with few of the ordinary means of dealing with a recession: a further tax cut (he’s already promised one) or a cut in interest rates, which are already low, while the federal budget is saddled with a trillion-dollar deficit.
How much slack the American public will cut Trump depends on how he deals with COVID-19. His normal response to bad news is (a) denial, and (b) lying. With half of China on lockdown, he called the virus no big deal. It wouldn’t come to America, or, if it did, it would be a minor nuisance. If it were something more than that, it would go away with the normal flu season in spring. If that didn’t happen — and you can’t make this up — maybe a “miracle” would make it go away.
As we know, the Donald doesn’t believe in science, so perhaps a miracle was the best thing he could think of. Miracles are a form of hope; they are also a mode of denial. When that option didn’t fly, Trump next tried to muzzle the scientists, requiring them to clear all public comments about the virus with the White House. This did not help credibility, so Trump decided to low-ball the numbers. At a time when there were sixty-seven known COVID-19 cases in the U.S., he declared the actual number to be twenty-two. Of course, many more will undoubtedly come. But Trump decided to lie off the bat. Or maybe an earlier number got stuck in his head, and he didn’t bother to get the update. Either way, it’s not a confidence-builder.
Next after fear, Americans are likely to feel empty wallets. That’s compound injury. And if a not-quite living thing can defeat space aliens, at least on the screen, it might just topple a single buffoon the size of a dirigible, and similarly puffed up with hot air.
We shouldn’t need such drastic means to rid ourselves of Donald Trump. But since the Constitution hasn’t done its job, it may fall to Mother Nature to help us out. The remedy, to be sure, is likely to be very expensive. Nor is it a certain one, with the Democratic Party our alternative. If nothing else works and things go on as they are, we may need another planet ourselves. This time, though, the aliens will be waiting for us.