What's terrifying isn't Trump telling people to inject bleach – it's people refusing to tell the president he's wrong
If Trump’s advisors had had the temerity to say words to the effect of ‘No you shouldn’t drink bleach’, we wouldn’t be in this mess
It is, in many ways, a disappointment that the world has ended up with a president of the United States that publicly advises his people to inject themselves with bleach – but arguably, the greater disappointment is how quickly we got here.
How did we let this happen, exactly? Well, perhaps we should turn our gaze upon transport secretary Grant Shapps, who despite the sudden global rush for astringents was still scraped from the bottom of the barrel in time for the 5pm Downing Street press conference.
Not that long ago, Mr Shapps was very publicly outed for having spent several years very publicly pretending to be two different people, so it is fair to say he is not unaccustomed to difficult questions from journalists.
“Should people inject themselves with bleach?” as he was asked by a reporter from Politico, is not one of them.
The answer is “no”. And yet the answer Mr Shapps found himself able to give was not to answer it at all. “I’ll defer to the medical experts,” he said instead, and turned his unctuous, grinning gaze upon the deputy chief medical officer, who explained what Mr Shapps had found himself unable to explain. That no, injecting oneself with bleach is ill advised.
Okay, so it’s not as if the media is not itself a dancer in this wild ballet. If Grant Shapps had had the gentle temerity to say words to the effect of “No you shouldn’t drink bleach,” then the UK government would have “slammed” Donald Trump, or similar. And why create a diplomatic incident when you can just gently usher a willing scientist out into the firing line on your behalf?
How did we get here, we ask again? We got here for the same reasons that we continue to be here, right now. By turning the other cheek to the powerful, by deferring to somebody else. It took barely more than an hour before the viral star of Donald Trump’s latest insane dribblings to be not Donald Trump himself, but his newly appointed chief coronavirus advisor, Dr Deborah Birx, who sat grimacing by his side in stony silence.
Perhaps every so often, Donald Trump needs to be “slammed”? By the people, by the Republican Party, by his own advisors, by absolutely anybody. How much courage does it take, how much face is lost, by daring to say no, don’t inject yourself with bleach?
For the time being, there is, theoretically at least, a US election happening in November. If Donald Trump wins another four years, the world may very well find it impossible to bear the strain. And there will be few who will bear responsibility quite so heavily as those who have let out a little half-smile and deferred the problem to somebody else.