Displaying the impeccable taste for which he’s so widely known, Donald Trump described himself as a ‘wartime president’.
He thereby claimed a slot in a direct line of descent from Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, all incidentally Democrats. (Republicans Eisenhower and Nixon ended the wars they hadn’t started.)
Since Boris Johnson is marginally less narcissistic and considerably more English, he has so far refrained from drawing a direct parallel between himself and Churchill, resorting to vague hints only. Yet he too routinely refers to the current pandemic as war.
He certainly treats it as such, or actually something worse. For even during Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe under her aegis, the rights of Englishmen weren’t as severely curtailed as they are under the measures announced last night.
Even so, the government missed a trick, which smacks of irresponsibility. The time-proven wartime measure of total blackout would make it impossible for people to leave home after dark even singly or in twos.
Yes, I know, mocking the government’s measures is easy. But what would you do in Johnson’s place, I hear you ask. To which my resolute and unequivocal reply is, I haven’t a clue.
But then mine is the cosy position of an analyst, not a doer, a man of thought rather than action. That comes with the kudos of scholarly detachment and the attendant ability to spot holes in arguments, both pro and contra.
Libertarians among us are understandably aghast. The problem, they say, doesn’t justify such draconian solutions. We are destroying the economy, empowering the state pari passu.
All those bailouts delivered with virtual-reality cash are tantamount to crypto-nationalisation. The government will either acquire the controlling interest in the companies it saves (as it did, say, with the Royal Bank of Scotland after the 2008 crisis) or will at least exercise de facto control.
Also, most of the small businesses that will go under, thousands of them, will never be able to reopen, which will snap the backbone of a free economy. The slack thus formed will be taken up by vast multinationals working hand in glove with the state. The world will go even more corporatist than it is already.
And for what? The libertarians point out that so far the number of coronavirus deaths from here to China is smaller by an order of magnitude than the casualty list claimed every year by seasonal flu.
Here I smell a logical rat, which is an unfortunate idiom, considering that rats are widely held responsible for the pandemic. For we know how many seasonal flu kills, albeit within a rather wide range. But we don’t know how many coronavirus may kill.
At what cut-off point would draconian measures seem reasonable? 50,000? 500,000? 5,000,000? Are we sure that, in the absence of totalitarian measures, such thresholds won’t be reached? I am not. And neither is anybody else, including the staunchest libertarians.
I feel intuitively that shutting the world down will create a calamity much worse than anything coronavirus could do, even as denominated in mortality rates.
Yet I won’t stake my own life on this intuition, which is why I choose empty streets for my daily walks and cross over to the other side when a passer-by comes my way. Hence, suggesting that other lives should be put at risk would be monstrously selfish and, even worse, intellectually dishonest.
Now we are on the subject of rats, another one I smell comes from Boris-worshippers, who shed tears over the putative hand-wrenching drama the PM had to go through before ordering a lockdown.
Boris, they say, is a life-long champion of our ancient liberties. For him having to stamp them into the dirt is tantamount to driving a stake through his own heart.
And yet he committed this ultimate act of self-sacrifice under the pressure exerted by his cabinet colleagues who’ll go nameless. All right, if you insist, Matt Hancock, in charge of Health, and Michael Gove, in charge of Everything Boris Couldn’t Be Bothered To Be In Charge Of.
Those who have this picture of our government in their minds should erase it immediately. The only thing Boris has been a lifelong champion of is Boris. If that weren’t the case, he wouldn’t have entered politics.
The time of selfless statesmen devoted to bono publico is long behind us. Today’s lot are narrowly committed to their own bono, and the public is seen as a means to that end. Their whole being has crystallised into the need to gain and keep power, which comes down to winning the next election and, ideally, the one after next.
If you have any doubts on that score, just look at this government’s first, blatantly socialist, trillion-pound budget. As a fringe benefit, it represents the bribery of the northerners who uncharacteristically voted Tory in the last general election.
But mainly it’s a massive transfer of power to the state, which, after all, is the real purpose of socialism, once it’s stripped of its mendacious bien pensant slogans. So much for Boris’s commitment to individual liberties.
He probably did come under pressure, but it wasn’t applied from the lofty height of public interest. Messrs Gove, Hancock and no doubt Cummings convinced Mr Johnson that it was in his political interest to be seen as a strong leader sacrificing his own philosophy at the altar of people’s health.
And they were right – witness the message of approval issued by Jeremy Corbyn. All he could muster by way of criticism was a teeth-gnashing whinge that he would have done all the same things a few days earlier.
Even old Jeremy must have sensed that for him to attack the Tories from a libertarian position (the only one really available) would turn him into a global laughingstock. There goes another Labour plank in the next election.
Oh well, I realise that so far I haven’t solved all the world’s problems. I would, but Penelope reminds me I’m otherwise engaged. Must go out for a walk, while that’s still allowed.