A LOT has been said about the psychological effects of Covid on the public. Worryingly, the management of an unpredictably mutating virus which is always one step ahead is fraying the composure of our leaders too.
In the last couple of weeks, Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron have lashed out at fellow citizens who defy government orders to be vaccinated because they doubt ‘the science’ is truly settled in favour of a jab which has not be subjected to the full range of tests for side-effects later in life.
Exasperated by resistance to their Covid dictates, the American and French leaders appear to be losing their minds and their manners in the battle between the risks of vaccination and the risk of becoming serious ill with the virus.
Biden, alarmed by the refusal of one third of Americans to be vaccinated while Omicron is on the loose – though it causes mainly flu-like symptoms – warned them at Christmas that they faced a ‘winter of death’. Not one person in the US is yet known to have died from the latest Covid variant.
‘We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated, for themselves and their families and the hospitals they’ll soon overwhelm,’ quoth the ancient prophet of doom at a White House briefing whose message was that the unjabbed are not just selfish, they endanger the lives of everyone else.
Biden fingered them officially as ‘bad persons’, an unwelcome term in America where being a good person is vital to many. Not unnaturally, his presentation was badly received, reinforcing as it did the political polarisation between Democrats and Republicans, whom the former accuse of being the main vaccination hold-outs.
People, including essential workers, are being fired across America for defying Biden’s vaccination mandates.
Macron went further this week in a newspaper interview, threatening to ‘emmerder les non-vaccinés jusqu’au bout’. A polite translation of this is that he intends to go after them hard until they give in.
Emmerder – literally, to smear with sh*t – is a commonly used expression and is offensive or not according to context. Macron deliberately used it at its rudest and got the reaction he hoped for.
A session of parliament to discuss the government’s introduction of an updated vaccination passport restricting the freedom of movement of the unvaccinated was suspended in uproar when members heard the explosion of Macron’s little bomb.
He changed the focus of the argument from the virus to his brutal language. It’s likely to be a talking point for his opponents during his campaign for re-election this spring.
The fashion for politicians insulting the people they rely on to elect them was set by President Obama referring to ‘bitter clingers’ and Hillary Clinton describing some Midwestern voters as ‘deplorables’. (Those bad persons again.)
Biden and Macron forgot that these remarks were never forgiven by their targets and in Clinton’s case helped her to lose the race for the presidency.
Boris Johnson has at least grasped that, after two years of unprecedented exposure to the arbitrary powers of government, it is politically counter-productive to strain people’s patience with constant loosening and re-tightening of a Covid regime unknown in free countries outside wartime.
What is shocking about Biden, Macron, Obama and Clinton is the openness of their contempt for the people they govern as if being in public office conferred on them a wisdom that separated them from the common voters rather than the duty to lead with their consent.
There is nothing in our democratic system, adversarial as it is, that entitles politicians to treat us angrily. How many people, hearing the Biden and Macron anathemas, rushed out with arms bared to the needle?
I was vaccinated promptly myself because the odds pushed me that way. But I understand the motives of those who see obligatory vaccination – along with a sustained media campaign to vilify them – as a step too far by an overbearing state.
The certitudes of government’s own scientific advisers are offset by the determination of so many health professionals – including my own GP – to refuse the vaccines. What right do political leaders, themselves scientifically uneducated, have to threaten doctors and nurses who have daily experience of how medical treatments work and which can be trusted?
‘My body my choice’, the battle cry that worked so well for supporters of abortion, is suddenly off the table when the principle doesn’t suit politicians.
Biden and Macron weren’t showing leadership. What they expressed was frustration that, with all their power, they cannot force obedience on free-thinking citizens and anger that they will be blamed for the consequences. Macron especially forgot that the way we speak to each other in public matters. If you abuse people, they remember.