Thatcher’s views on society were clear, but what are Trump’s?

'America First' remains a dream – the country looks in disarray. It certainly isn’t leading anyone anywhere. Hardly a world power, in this respect. Perhaps for the first time in history America is languishing at the end of the queue. Perhaps, writes Alessio Colonnelli, his legacy will be 'America Bust'...

“There’s no such thing as society,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1980. Words still resonating – 40 years on – with austerity-enamoured and privatisation-driven politicians of all latitudes. They won’t admit to it, of course. They’re not that naïve. The people bring votes.

But when the current British government went for the “herd immunity” approach – whereby tens if not hundreds of thousands of Britons would’ve had to die as a sacrifice for the common good of a nation free of Covid-19 – perhaps it was internally listening to Thatcher’s legacy.

Or maybe not: herd immunity means taking a whole society to the slaughterhouse to emerge as a stronger – though shrunken – society afterwards. Finally cleansed. How brutal, though. A herd is referred to with cattle, not humans.

And so if you think prime minister Boris Johnson’s executive’s initial take on the coronavirus was sheer madness, so do I. Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, told television cameras the other day that “All governments make mistakes, including our own.” A half-sorry remark, while pointing his finger at others.

A fan of such politics, as well as an admirer of Johnson, is US President Donald Trump. The two share many views. Der Spiegel reported on the situation in the States last week. It said that Trump “minimized and resisted the [coronavirus] crisis for months.” Now America is the new epicentre of the pandemic. As of today, it has the highest number of infected people (787,000) and dead (42,000) of any country in the entire world. “He couldn’t decide whether to take the virus seriously or dismiss it as a Democrats’ fantasy.”

Trump’s advisers keep trying to bring him back into the real world, but struggle like mad. Either he like Thatcher believes there isn’t a society out there, or he reckons swathes of American society can be used up and its toxic residue thrown away in order to build a herd immunity for the benefit of others – over  time. No rush. And sod the labs, just save money. A plan Johnson and co. regretted  initially pursuing, as we’ve heard. Johnson himself nearly died of coronavirus, after all. Yet Trump still hasn’t given us any clear indication of what he thinks – either way.

It’d be good to find out though, however regrettable both ideas are. We just don’t know what his approach is, apart from blaming the World Health Organisation and the “Chinese virus” (his definition of the coronavirus) for the mess everybody’s in.

Meanwhile, America First remains a dream – the country looks in disarray. It certainly isn’t leading anyone anywhere. Hardly a world power, in this respect. Perhaps for the first time in history America is languishing at the end of the queue. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, there could be 47 million unemployed in the US by June. People resorting to food banks have risen tenfold in recent weeks.

What we do know is Thatcher’s legacy. What’s Trump’s going to be then, if he loses the presidential election this autumn? America Last?

Or America Bust?

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  • Alessio Colonnelli is an Italian freelance translator, writer and commentator on European political and social affairs, and a contributor to publications that include The New Statesman, The Independent, Prospect Magazine, the Huffington Post (UK), Foreign Policy and Politico Europe. His regularly updated blog, Thoughts on Europe, can be found here.

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