Saturday 3 October 2020

After Covid-19 strikes, President Trump, the Vish Purush ( Sunday Guardian)


The version retailed by a few White House watchers is that Hope Hicks recently became ‘good friends’ with a man who made no secret of his disdain for her boss, and who ensured a lengthy meeting between himself and her in a private setting as soon as was discovered that he was an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19.

NEW DELHI: Chanakya elaborated on the concept of the “Vish Kanya” (Poison Girl), a girl weaned on poison who killed with a kiss those who succumbed to her charms. There could also have been a “Vish Purush” (Poison Man), who kills a target through the poison he carried with him or within him. It was no female “Vish Kanya”, but males (“Vish Purush”) who attempted to take away the lives of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Alexei Navalny in the UK and Russia through the nerve agent Novichok. In contrast, the fugitive half-brother of DPRK Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un was felled inside Kuala Lumpur airport by a pair of women armed with a poisonous substance disguised as cosmetic cream. Now that  the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has been reported as having fallen prey to the novel coronavirus courtesy his assistant Hope Hicks, conspiracy theories are raining down with the intensity of a monsoon downpour. The version retailed by a few White House watchers is that Hope Hicks recently became “good friends” with a man who made no secret of his disdain for her boss, and who ensured a lengthy meeting between himself and her in a private setting as soon as he discovered that he was an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19. This unverified theory concerns the manner in which White House staffer and Presidential favourite Hope Hicks acquired the novel coronavirus, which subsequently got transferred to the individual working in close proximity to her, the US President. Did the socially gregarious Hicks acquire a “close friend” who was open to her about his view that Trump is a disaster for the country he leads, and did she have a longish meeting with him days before symptoms of Covid-19 manifested itself? Even Sherlock Holmes would be hard put to prove malign intent in the unlikely event of the propositions mentioned by the “Vish Purush” theorists being true. In any event, what is clear is that Hope Hicks needed to be monitored 24/7, for she is socially gregarious, and could well have picked up more than conversation from some of such meetings, which could subsequently have been passed on to the First Citizen . Questions arise about why her socially liberal ways were not pointed out to the President as a possible security risk. The reply is that Trump was fully aware of the lifestyle of Hope Hicks and gave no signs of disapproval. Why was he not warned about the possible consequences, including to himself? Because President Trump reacts violently and unfavourably to any criticism or warnings about those he considers to practically be family, as Hicks has been for a while. Staffers would therefore hesitate to warn in and leave the matter in the hands of the 45th President himself, as they did many other matters where a second opinion (to Trump’s) may have been needed. Why Hicks accompanied President Trump to Ohio when she was starting to feel unwell, and why she herself was not being more carefully monitored for her contacts and her symptoms remain questions that need transparent answers. Those in the intimate retinue of leaders of a consequential country—in this case the most consequential—cannot expect the privilege of an unsupervised private life. If they insist on such a lifestyle, they should retire from the high voltage service that is bound up in being close to those working in close proximity with the US President. Allowing an individual known to have an active social life to be within the confines of a helicopter with the President was itself a breach of security explainable only by the pervasive atmosphere of fear that President Trump engenders among so many staffers, fear that prevents them from insisting that necessary security protocols be adhered to rather than ignored. Fear is no substitute for respect. The first breeds bad solutions while the latter promotes the opposite.


The explanation offered within some in his team is that President Trump looks askance at any effort by minions (which is what he regards White House staff as being) to limit the access his family and close associates such as Hope Hicks have to him, and hence he is in several instances his own Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor. Any individual who disputed this would soon find himself or herself out of the White House. If Trump wanted his favourite, “Hopey”, on Marine One on the day of the debate with Biden, there was no way she was going to be kept out, unless she herself acted with prudence and declined the invite in view of her unsupervised personal life and symptoms of poor health. Because of the atmosphere within the Trump White House, there was a palpable inability of medical security staff to create a complete bubble around the President, including by keeping out those favoured by him who were mingling with individuals not certain to be free of Covid-19. This gap in the bubble protecting Trump from the novel coronavirus has caused the hospitalisation of the President and very likely his chance at winning a second term. An individual who cannot protect himself despite access to the best security matrix available on the planet may find it difficult to convince voters that he can protect them. Should the novel coronavirus wreak havoc with President Trump, he may need to hand over the baton in the 3 November contest to Vice President Mike Pence. Given the circumstances, the obviously confident and able Vice President would as rival start with the disadvantage of the circumstances that propelled him to be the Republican Party standard bearer. It is very much Advantage Biden, although this may still change, given that what is driving the contest in Biden’s direction is less his qualities than the drawbacks of his opponent. If Biden cuts loose from the constricting circle of advisors around him and shows that he is as much of a pugilist as Trump or Pence, he would coast to an easy win over either Trump or Pence. Biden needs to show that he is as much of a fighter for the causes he believes in as Kamala Harris, who seems to have been tucked away into a corner since her nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate and almost forgotten by the Biden campaign. The Biden-Harris ticket is attractive. So far as the individual who aspires to be the 46th President of the US is concerned, Joe Biden is known for his integrity and his simplicity of demeanour, so unlike other VIPs. The former Vice President’s devotion to family values is visible, and is a contrast to some others in politics. It helps that in Jill Biden the Democratic nominee has a brilliant and dedicated helpmate, who can serve as both a goad to a more assertive Biden and a conscience blocking those within the campaign who seek to cut ethical corners.


The Trump campaign was expecting a very different October surprise, this involving Hunter Biden. Reports abound (which may of course be untrue) of videos in the possession of security establishments in both the traditional as well as the newly identified “threat” countries to the US. These purport to show Hunter Biden in a relaxed mood during visits to an East European and an East Asian country, enjoying quality time with pleasant company. In case such images exist and should they get released during a Biden presidency, it would not be a catastrophe, but a welcome sign that fears of the possible 46th President of the US being soft on the primary 21st century threat to the US are untrue. It is certainly a fact that key elements in Biden’s Atlanticist team of foreign policy advisors hew closely to what they have been tutored to think by policy makers in countries in the European Union that they regard as their intellectual mentors, and have in essence kept away from the Obama pivot towards the Indo-Pacific in favour of the Clinton obsession with focusing singularly on the Atlantic alliance, a bias visible during the Clinton presidency as well as during the Hillary-heavy first term of Barack Obama. Were Joe Biden to show that he can be as tough in the defence of US interests and primacy as in many respects Trump has been, his victory on 3 November would be certain. The meek may some day inherit the earth, but are unlikely to win the hearts and minds of voters. What won the election for John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon in 1960 was the fiction of a “missile gap” with the USSR under Eisenhower and Nixon, and what cost Jimmy Carter the 1980 contest with Ronald Reagan was the dispiriting image of US hostages remaining prisoners in Teheran despite a year and more of incarceration. Throughout the US, hostility towards China has grown to a level that was impossible to conceive of just a year ago, and it is this wave that Donald Trump has been hoping will lead him to a second term, especially given the adherence of key Biden counsellors to the European line, which is that Russia is the enemy and China the opportunity. In reality, the two are locked into an alliance in which Moscow is only nominally co-equal.


Contrary to the theory being floated of deliberate intent, it may well be that whoever transmitted the novel coronavirus to Hope Hicks did so without realising that it was in residence in his body. That it was not the intention of the hitherto unknown “good friend” of Hope Hicks to incapacitate the President through her. So far as the period before the election is concerned, much depends on how soon Donald Trump expels the novel coronavirus from his system. If he were to succeed in this with his energy and spirit intact and still have a little over ten days left for campaigning, there would still be hope of his prevailing over Joe Biden, despite what the polls presently say. What is clear from this episode (as indeed from the Hunter Biden saga) is that an unsupervised private life by any individual in close working or personal proximity is a significant risk to the leader of any consequential country. Once such an “insider” position is secured, there can no longer be the freedom of a personal life that represents the risk of either contagion or blackmail. During the 1950s, Senator John F. Kennedy had a relationship with a woman who was also close to Mafia boss Sam Giancana, as reportedly was Kennedy himself. The risks this represented to his brother’s presidency motivated Robert Kennedy to launch a crusade against the Mafia that may have cost him not just a stint at the White House but his life in 1968. President Trump, should he bounce back and do the impossible by winning a second term, will need to be protected from his worst instincts in a manner that has clearly not been the case in a White House where every staffer knows that each day could be his or her last in the job. Richard Nixon was forced out in disgrace because those around him failed in protecting the 37th President of the US. Those around President Trump may have cost their boss his job and worse by a similar act of negligence caused by their fear of annoying a boss who hates to be told that he is wrong, no matter by whom and about what. Echo chambers cause the decay of sound policies and practices, as Donald J. Trump may finally have come to realise in his battle for health within the military hospital where his treatment is being supervised.

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