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Hearts of stone


It was Oscar Wilde—of course—who wrote to his friend Ada Levenson: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell (in Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop) without laughing.” Indeed. And I must confess that I feel the same, reading about Donald Trump’s bout of Covid-19. Decorum requires that we don’t gloat. But surely a discreet snicker among friends and family is okay? It’s not often that hubris comes unstuck so publicly and spectacularly.

There are those—come on, admit it, I’ve heard you—who would like to see Donald Trump join the 200,000-plus Americans whose encounter with Covid-19 ended fatally badly. Wish that if you will. Me, I don’t, and not out of any concern for decorum or even for Donald Trump, but out of concern for the consequences if Donald Trump is not around on 3 November. By that date millions of ballot papers will have been printed with his name on them, millions of mail and other absentee ballots will have been cast, and millions will be queueing up to vote in person. What will happen to those votes? The courts will decide, you say. Or they’ll have to re-run the whole election. Whatever happens you can be sure it will be messy, contestable and unprecedented. I’d rather things continued as they are, with Biden and Harris making little or no actual headway but with Trump and Pence widening the gap by sliding steadily backwards, dragging Republican senators with them. Talk about laugh!

Why do I care? After all, here I am an Australian writer living in France. What’s it to me? You might well ask. The answer is that we are at one of those watershed moments in world history, and I want to revel in it all. The three most prominent Covid-denying right-wing oafs in the world, namely Donald Trump in the US, Boris Johnson in the UK, and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, have all succumbed to Covid-19. If the virus could just get to work on Viktor Orbán in Hungary (who used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to grab extra power), that would be a clean sweep. We live in hope.

What’s it to me? Well, if Trump goes down in humiliating numbers in the November election, it might give pause to right wing populists like Scott Morrison in Australia. If all this simplistic nonsense can cost you your job, then Morrison and his mates might just begin to wonder whether migrant bashing and climate change denying are a winning formula after all.

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