COVID-19 day 72: Morrison, Seneca, co-morbidity, and Wellington.
Both the ABC’s Laura Tingle and The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy cut Prime Minister Scott Morrison some slack in their analyses of his news media standup yesterday with his chief health officer, Professor Brendan Murphy.
I was incredulous. What short and fickle memories these analysts have. And I say ‘his’ chief health officer, because the man is too much a political pawn for me to trust anything he has to say. My chief health officer is my GP, who gains nothing by lying to me.
I saw only part of the standup routine, but I was struck by the absence of Morrison’s trademark smug, contemptuous sneer. The one that gives away his lack of adult maturity for everyone to see, as if by natural warning sign.
But unlike Murphy and Tingle, I saw nothing at all to change my mind about Morrison as a bungling fool incapable of suppressing cheap political point–scoring even in a deadly global emergency. What I saw was an actor, undertaking yet another audition for a part he will never be able to pull off: that of a national leader. That of a visionary statesman.
Morrison remains at heart and in action just a cheap political crook. And the proof of that pudding is that he thinks talk alone will address emergencies with concrete real–world impacts. He promised Australians a $2 billion bushfire recovery fund, and was allowed, by the news media, to skate over the fact that this was a complete lie. Such a fund was never established. At the same time the new media has now given him a pass on the election funding rorts he undoubtedly masterminded and drove to increase re–election chances. Maybe a billion dollars of taxpayer money spent as if it were a private Coalition election fund.
Now he tells us about a $17 billion recession stimulus package, but has anyone seen a cent of it? Why not? So that he can make political capital from any positive effect isolated in the next financial quarter, rather than see its effects diluted in the current, already contaminated beginning of the year. That’s not leadership. That’s cheap political point–scoring.
Worse, Morrison used bis standup routine to wag his finger at panic buyers and profiteers emptying supermarket shelves for idiotic reasons and profit motives. He says it’s un–Australian. But how convincing is such a message from the chief role model of the kind of mean–spirited, corrupt selfishness that is the hallmark of every political party in the anglophone world that calls itself (quite fraudulently) conservative. The Coalition, its leading propagandists, and its private sector owners have long preached the kind frenzied and nihilistic greed perfectly illustrated with video actuality of ordinary people savagely fighting over toilet paper, as if magically transported from their local supermarket aisles to a land ruled by the lord of the flies.
What’s disturbing about this is not just the sight of fat old hags beating each other to gain possession of a toilet paper family pack, but the sudden certainty that my suspicion was always right: just how thin the veneer of civilization has become in the Coalition’s preferred dog–eat–dog world of perpetually quick profits at all costs, and damn the stragglers in the herd.
Most disturbing of all is that Murphy and Tingle seem to have forgotten this reality and that longer term historical context in their compliments to an utterly undeserving numpty, whose mistakes will soon be counted in tens or hundreds of thousands of lives. I’m not hyperbolizing: if we extrapolate a doubling of current figures every six days, as has been seriously suggested by some health experts, at the end of June every Australian will have been infected, and fatalities will number 655,000 or more.
Of course that math excludes successful treatments, positive outcomes from lockdowns and isolation, or a lower fatality rate than infection rate. But we have no evidence that our health system, defunded and de–staffed quite deliberately by Morrison as treasurer and PM, is capable of even elementary treatment if thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of patients need care. Politics again: Morrison and others like him have worked for years at dismantling all the institutions, expertise and personnel necessary to underpin a truly civilized society. Cost–cutting and short–term paper profits ahead of all other considerations.
Now the twin disasters of a pandemic and a related recession will shred what’s left of the paper–thin edifice of civilization left by nihilistic wreckers like Morrison. And I can’t find it in myself to give him a free pass for this legacy just because he is, at long last, trying to act like a leader. But only trying. And only acting.
Is all this too misanthropic? I have been reading Seneca’s Of Anger, starting well before I came across Brigid Delaney’s promotion of her forthcoming new book on the Stoics. Like so many others, including the foremost scholars, Delaney thinks the Stoics teach us to accept catastrophe with equanimity. But what I’ve read of Seneca tells me he was looking to instruct his readers on how to make pragmatic accommodations with powerful but perpetually adolescent sociopaths. Roman and historical leaders who wielded enormous powers to turn their temper tantrums, childish whims, and infantile conceptions into pogroms, mass murders, and disasters.
Seneca did not, I think, talk about accepting anything with a stiff upper lip. Just that some things we simply cannot change, but acting as intellectuals, we have a duty to blunt the catastrophic consequences of psychopathic leaders.
If I read him right, the role of journalists today should be to educate Morrison, not to flatter him or act as his stenographers.
AND WHAT would the instruction look like? A real leader would have taken the politics out of the situation by pulling together what remains of experts in the field to do the talking to the public. A real leader would have invited the ALP into his cabinet to make joint decisions, with joint media stand–ups by Morrison and Albanese to sell policies like isolation, warnings against panic buying, and grim forecasts. A real leader would be acting every day, not talking and sitting back to await yet more bad news. Act now. Monitor effects, use course corrections, and act again. Every day. Or more frequently, as required.
Why are there not yet transparent efforts to establish expanded hospital facilities, the way the Chinese worked at it? Why has there been no publicly discussed plan to co-opt private health services, like using private hospitals and staff to cope with emergency demands? Why are there not yet demonstrated attempts at locally manufacturing and distributing essentials like hand sanitizers, face masks, and gowns for medical staff. Ventilators and nebulizers for the deathly ill? And so on, down a prioritized list? Is anyone even looking at how this might be achieved by nationalizing university and private laboratories, or small–scale manufacturing capacities across diverse industries? Has anyone approached the transnational corporations active in Australia for help in establishing such a capacity? In short, what evidence is there that an emergency management capacity exists at all in government? Not politicians talking, but experts planning and doing.
Nope. Morrison simply doesn’t deserve any praise at all for doing yet more talking. He missed the boat, even, to calm people down with his marketing propaganda by leaving it too long, and contradicting himself too often. How could he possibly think no one noticed that he delayed prohibitions on mass gatherings so his Pentecostal (Hillsong) cult could go ahead with a mass event last weekend to fleece its congregation in order to boost its profits? A death cult that pretends the incoherent ranting of its pastors can protect its congregations from the effects of a virus, but still advocates the virtues of the ‘rapture’, which is a euphemism for the extinction of the human species.
I can’t quite shake my suspicion of anyone who says he believes that sort of absolute gibberish, and still maintains he can act rationally as a national leader. It may be arch to say so, but these are the qualifications of a lunatic, not of a leader.
WHILE ALL this is going on, some people are looking for things to cheer themselves up amid the relentless avalanche of bad news. I might be one of those, given that I am the focus of at least three co–morbidity factors making my chances of survival, when infected, a little lower than is the case for most others under the age of 70.
One of those bright little sparks of distraction for millions of people seems to have been an online video of Wellington, the rockhopper penguin, left to roam Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium while no spectators were gawking at the ‘exhibits’.
I’ve seen the video. Wellington seems quite personable, waddling around the place in an apparent analogue of some intrigued and interested person being transported into an alien environment.
But while watching the video I could not help but think that I was witnessing a prisoner being shown his gaol from outside his cell. From the vantage of thousands of voyeurs who come to gawk at him in his incarcerated state every day.
It seems compelling to think of myself like Wellington, imprisoned by the stupidity of people like Morrison, who are plainly unfit to lead a nation. That I am a Wellington, ‘allowed’ by people like Murphy and Tingle to occasionally wander the corridors and gantries of my prison from the vantage of the privileged classes–those who have benefited hugely from the Coalition’s economic nihilism so far–to see just how bizarre and fragile my continued existence has become in that gaol. Where the inmates are possibly the only sane people left in the country.