Just as horrific as the growing COVID-19 death toll and infection numbers in the United States is the spectacle of the daily tantrums of its megalomaniac President Donald Trump.
Trump’s daily press conferences set new records for the bizarre. His aggressive racism and misogyny were underlined by his May 12 stomp out after being challenged by Asian American CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang.
Trump has become a living avatar for the last sort of person most people would want to be wielding power especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But even more horrifying for many, is that while CNN-commissioned polls show 55% of the US public disapprove of his handling of COVID-19, 42% approve!
That societies deserve the political leaders they have, especially if they are elected, is an argument that surfaces over and over again in numerous discussions of Trump and the pandemic. An even more pessimistic take is that Trump and his apparently resilient support base represent a violent and selfish aspect of “human nature” that makes any hope of real progress a pipe dream.
But a powerful antidote to this pessimistic view came out in an article by Dutch writer Rutger Bregman, author of the newly published Humankind: A Hopeful History in the May 9 Guardian. “The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months” powerfully challenged the pessimistic message of William Golding’s 1951 best-selling novel.
In Lord of the Flies, a group of schoolboys marooned on a deserted island eventually degenerate into bloody barbarism. But in the real life version, when a group of schoolboys from a Tongan boarding school were stranded on Ata, a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean in 1965, they organised themselves into a well-functioning commune and survived remarkably harmoniously until they were rescued more than a year later by Australian sea captain Peter Warner.
Finding an article in the October 6, 1966 The Age, entitled “Sunday showing for Tongan castaways” helped Rutger to track down Warner and one of the boys he rescued, Mano Totau, to the town of Mackay in Queensland, where he got their story.
This story is a powerful reminder that there is a lot of evidence against the dark pessimism about “human nature” that can spread as fast as a new virus during times of crisis.
Horrible human specimens like Trump can rise to powerful positions during times of extreme conflict. There is no shortage of cruel leaders in written history. Individuals like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Trump are only some of the more recent ugly examples.
However, written history spans only the last 6000 years of human experience, and it is largely a history of class-divided and patriarchal states that were always inherently brutal and cruel and which eventually colonised the whole planet. This systematic brutality was a shock to Indigenous peoples living peacefully in this continent until a couple hundred years ago.
Just as systematic violence and terror were required in antiquity to keep society divided into a few slave-owners and many slaves, so it is today in a world grossly distorted by the growing wealth and power gap between the billionaire class and the rest of humanity.
As this gap grows, deepening injustice and the multi-fronted ecological crisis, the likes of Trump and his imitators in other countries are being thrown up to “lead” the violent suppression of any resistance to the untenable status quo.
It’s horrible and we have to fight Trump and the bankrupt system that created him. But we should be clear that he does not represent us or “human nature”. He embodies the worst in human nature, both as it exists today and as it did for hundreds of thousands of years before the last 6000 of class society.
We at Green Left are sometimes dismissed as optimists or dreamers, but in times of crisis, voices that challenge the messaging from the powerful that rule to keep us afraid and paralysed are important. Green Left is one of the challenging voices. You can help keep this voice alive by becoming a supporter or making a donation to our Fighting Fund.