Claremont Institute Senior Fellow John Marini is one of the few experts on American Government who understood the rise of Trump from the beginning of the 2016 election cycle. Now he looks to the fundamental question that Trump's presidency raises: is the legitimacy of our political system based on the authority of the American people and the American nation-state, or the authority of experts and their technical knowledge in the service of "progress"?
“Don’t Let It Dominate Your Life”
On Trump and the virus.
President Trump was discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center a few days ago. His messaging during this unfolding drama first drew criticism from those who claimed he should have been more transparent about every detail, every step of the way. And the usual venomous bile and frenzied attacks came spewing from the the cackle of hyenas that is the White House press corps no less than #resistance goons like Ilhan Omar and Jennifer Rubin.
But why should they hold back? They have all but stated publicly that they want the president dead, lo these four long years. It would be dishonest of them at this point to wish him well.
We aren’t just watching different movies anymore, as Scott Adams used to say—we need an analogy that goes far beyond that one. The new norm the press has established is a baseline of fear and hysteria. They live in a completely alternative intellectual, emotional, and psychological reality. In fact, in 2020 America, “the news” consists almost entirely of the continuous public mental breakdown of the members of the media. “The discourse” amounts to illogical twists and turns of voiced anxiety attacks, punctured only by discordant shrieks of hysteria by the mentally ill.
Yet all of that—the tense moments of waiting for more video or tweets from Trump, the disgusting spectacle of watching supposedly honorable people morph into slavering ambulance chasers—was thoroughly eclipsed by two sentences in the middle of Trump’s tweet announcing his departure from the hospital. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” the president said. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”
There it is. Like an ace tennis serve or a steak prepared just right, this messaging is so perfect it seems simple. But it is apparently not simple. At least, it has not been easy for the technocrats who run our administrative state, and the chattering classes who run our media, to say anything even half so straightforward, commonsensical, and encouraging about this virus.
Trump can now speak from personal experience, and his authority on the matter will make a difference in the COVID narrative as we hurtle toward the election. Bear in mind: we do not have one new piece of information about how the virus works, how fatal it is, or how to cure it, that we did not have last week. But all this—the lockdowns, the masks, the thunderous moralizing—was never about information.
This is a virus which, according to the CDC, has a survival rate of over 99% for everyone under 70 (for those over that age, like Trump, it’s 94.6%). There is little evidence to suggest its spread can be meaningfully curbed by masks, except those of the N95 variety when used in confined spaces. And yet Democrat rulers and their media apparatchiks have been insisting—demanding—that we practice ever-more baroque and elaborate forms of meaningless antiviral gestures. Wear masks outdoors. Shut down the gyms and the churches (but riots are fine). Your life must be disrupted, your livelihood ruined. Obey or be mocked, unpersoned, condemned.
What is this all about? Not a virus, but a story—a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The story goes like this: over the course of the past century, political scientists developed the ability to break deliberation and decision-making down to their atomic particles, to quantify and measure risk, and to dictate on the basis of irrefutable scientific certainty what should or should not be done. The moral questions of governance—who should decide, on what grounds, and with what degree of responsibility for others—were assumed to have been taken care of by this new machinery of data analysis.
There was therefore no need, the story went, for the unwashed and inexpert masses to make such decisions as what to do, whom to associate with, and how to handle the emergence of an infectious new virus. Indeed, for the common man to do so was downright dangerous, immoral, subversive. That story—the story of the administrative state, of pollsters and bureaucrats and the CDC—is the hypnotic narrative which made it seem plausible that the doctors and scientists really did know best, that we should shut the country down until they deemed it safe.
The next chapter in the story was supposed to go like this: Trump, as punishment for the sin of taking COVID too lightly, became infected. His death would be protracted, painful, and highly public—a little morality play about the wages of defying science. But in fact that narrative, like every part of the story to date, turns out to be spectacularly wrong.
COVID is not actually the Bubonic Plague, as has been apparent for some time. Polls are not actually infallible predictors of human action, as Brexit and 2016 made painfully clear. There is in fact no such predictor, because human beings are irreducibly, defiantly God-created beings whose free will has stymied philosophers and theologians and mathematicians and political scientists ever since such people have existed to be stymied.
So now the story has not gone as planned, and it is increasingly difficult to deny that this is so. The storytellers will certainly try, as they have been doing, to force the story back onto its pre-planned narrative grooves. That is why they have demanded we stay muzzled, locked up, impoverished, and afraid: because if they just force us, on pain of excommunication, to act out their little false tale, then maybe, just maybe, in spite of it all, that tale will come true.
“Be very afraid of the virus”, they tell us, and “Let us dominate your life.” Over and against that now stands Trump alone, telling another story. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Simple and plain, full of homespun wisdom: risk is out there. It will always be. But if an overweight 74-year-old can lick this thing and come out smiling, then you don’t have to let the fear of it run your life.
The contrast with the Biden approach could not be more plain. Hiding in his basement, calling lid after lid, Joe embodies what “leadership” looks like under the reign of bureaucratic technocracy. He is leading only in the sense that he is holding himself up as the chief example of how to comply, how to be afraid, how to submit one’s whole person to the dictates of Dr. Fauci.
The regnant Uber-driver wisdom outside the inner enclaves of elites is that if Biden wins, the restrictions on American life due to the virus will be relaxed. Don’t be fooled: Biden has already told us otherwise. Drunk with newfound powers over our lives that would have been unfathomable just nine months ago, our state and local leaders are not going to willingly let them go so easily. It is unelected experts like Fauci who would be in charge should Biden win.
The implications of such an approach are already apparent in states like California and New York, where governors Newsom and Cuomo have parlayed the edicts of “science” into political fiat, sternly warning that we may never go back to normal. In Michigan, only the courts have stopped the same from happening under the reign of Gretchen Witmer. There will be no such defense for an America under Biden and Harris, which in reality will be an America dominated by dishonest and shambolic expertism.
A true leader does not hide himself from the public view or cower in the face of danger, no matter how many studies demand that he do so. What Trump has demonstrated, therefore, is that old, basic, and indispensable virtue of courage. It is not that he might not have died. It’s that even if he had, he would have been right: the remote possibility of death should not be enough to unmake a free man. Biden is running as chief among cowards, the example of what everyone, under his presidency, would be: obedient, scared, docile. Trump is running as chief among Americans, the leader of free men and women.
Yes, Trump had good medical care and is wealthy. But that’s not the real reason he came out OK, and we all know it: he came out OK because COVID, in the end, is not enough of a threat to run your life. That’s the real story, and it is being told before our eyes. We are also being browbeaten, threatened, and commanded not to believe it. Will we obey?