Elect a populist, people die

Delinquents masquerading as leaders visited avoidable suffering and loss upon millions of people from Brazil to the US and Ontario.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches as a healthcare worker administers the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a personal support worker, at The Michener Institute, in Toronto, Canada, January 4, 2021 [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Fact 1: A murderous virus has proven that a lot of people die when populist charlatans get elected.

Fact 2: Scientists have established that the sad sweep of deaths, grief and despair this contagion has caused should not have happened.

Fact 3: We now know that when a grim, relentless disease meets petty, diseased minds, catastrophe is likely to ensue.

Some of the charlatans’ names are familiar: Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

These two preening delinquents masquerading as leaders have visited inconsolable pain, suffering and loss upon so many families whose names we do not know.

Anyone from anywhere who, for any reason, disputes these facts is guilty of the same ignorance and infuriating obstinance of these two rich, white men whose disdain for the nearly one million people in the United States and Brazil who have succumbed to a mutating virus is as plain as it is grotesque.

Given the sickening measure of Trump and Bolsonaro’s inhumanity and malevolence, I am compelled to ask: “Do these deaths constitute a crime?”

I pose this question not to shock, but to try to understand and frame the scope of the cruel malfeasance and a breathtaking number of deaths these venal, scientifically illiterate frauds are undeniably responsible for.

Trump and Bolsonaro may not have set out to kill for a perverse parochial aim.

Still, in rejecting, with such cocky craven certainty, the prescient advice of doctors and scientists who briefed this pair of rank populists on what they had to do to prevent a human calamity and when they had to do it, Trump and Bolsonaro consigned hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens to often agonising, lonely deaths and then promptly forgot about them.

They achieved this horror by careful design. They dismissed the irrefutable science again and again. They promoted quackery as a cure. They belittled masks and other simple, sensible ways of saving lives. They smeared the white-coat army of physicians and scientists who implored them to heed their prescriptions and warnings.

And when the bitter consequences of their calculated, lethal folly became apparent, Trump and Bolsonaro took refuge in denial and the exculpatory comfort of sycophants who assured them again and again that they were not to blame.

They are to blame. I am sure that, like other rich, white, swaggering braggarts, Trump and Bolsonaro are confident that they will escape any meaningful punishment for the profound, indelible harm they must be remembered for.

There are, of course, lesser-known populist grifters who have established – by way of their serial ineptness and negligence – that they are also dangerously unfit to navigate any country or province through this stubborn, paralysing crisis.

Almost a year ago in this space, I rebuked a bunch of easily impressed progressives for praising Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s handling of the then-nascent COVID-19 epidemic.

In the early days of the pandemic, the premier of Canada’s most populous province did what he ought, at a minimum, to have done – he followed the science.

In return for Ford adhering to this rational bar, a slew of progressives took to print and the airwaves to profess their sudden affection for the older, equally buffoonish brother of Toronto’s late and lamentable mayor, Rob Ford.

I forewarned the smitten that, in due time, Ford – another rich, white man – would return to his lifelong habit of relying on his gut to do much of the thinking and deciding for him. The gains made in battling a fast-spreading, recalcitrant virus would evaporate in the face of Ford’s signature libertarianism that inevitably translates into offering simplistic, visceral solutions to serious, complex problems.

Predictably, Ford has, in recent months, consulted his prominent belly for guidance to try to tame a virus that is overwhelming Ontario with wildfire-like ferocity.

The number of patients in ICU beds and on ventilators has reached pandemic highs. Front-line hospital staff are suffering in ways that only they can understand. Each day, they do the hard, valiant work of trying to save lives while Ford spouts clichés about “heroes”.

Meanwhile, the brief love affair between Ford and his silly, besotted progressive fans has ended, replaced by scorn and disbelief over the premier’s desertion of science and the common good.

Like Trump and Bolsonaro, Ford has built a cosy cocoon of ministers and advisers who are content to go along with the premier’s cockeyed edicts or risk losing his confidence and their valued calling cards.

Last week, a legion of anxious nurses, doctors and scientists implored Ford to impose a hard lockdown in the province, close all but essential workplaces, get vulnerable people in hotspots vaccinated, and finally provide paid sick leave to poor, blue-collar workers who are disproportionally being infected and dying of COVID-19.

Instead, Ford closed playgrounds and empowered police forces to stop and question people arbitrarily in blatant violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At a news conference to announce his latest round of hesitancy and useless, nonsensical fiats, a pallid-looking Ford did what panicked populists do when they realise their insipid, bumper-sticker bluster no longer convinces: deflect and attack.

Rather than admit to grave mistakes that have triggered the near collapse of Ontario’s hospitals, the premier insisted he was not at fault.

In Ford’s convenient calculus, the true architect of the province’s implosion is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ottawa’s spotty delivery of vaccines.

(Trudeau shares the rap on this score, but Ontario’s chaotic infrastructure to get vaccines in arms is a confusing, incoherent mess.)

It was a sorry dodge befitting yet another frothing populist who belatedly recognises that governing is much more difficult than promising voters a buck-a-beer.

While Ford was busy pointing an accusatory finger, the backlash to his display of cheap, self-serving justifications amid a raging endemic was swift and humiliating.

Police across the province announced they would not enforce Ford’s draconian stop-and-question decree. Exhausted doctors said putting police tape around swings and teeter-totters would do nothing to staunch the torrent of grievously sick patients flooding emergency rooms.

Adrift and frantic, Ford instantly tacked and rescinded his idiotic orders and is poised – 12 months too late – to support paid sick leave. With the premier AWOL, local health officials have taken overdue and necessary steps to curb outbreaks in workplaces.

In the bleak age of COVID-19, Trump, Bolsonaro and Ford are proof that describing callow, perfidious rubes as “populists” is a reckless and deadly oxymoron.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.