Declothing the Emperor — A Viral Story

(Graphic: Brian Covert / Original image: Bill Day)

Folktales abound in ancient cultures and countries of some vainglorious king who is hoodwinked by a dishonest tailor and made to believe he is wearing a magnificent suit of fine regal robes, when, in fact, he is wearing nothing at all — as he finds out only after he leaves the castle walls and parades himself to a gawking public that sees his royal highness in all his nakedness.

India has just such a folktale dating back to around 1200 AD; Spain too has a story like that from back in the 1300s. For most of us in the modern world, though, the most famous version of this tale is The Emperor’s New Clothes, written by author Hans Christian Anderson of Denmark in 1837.

In Anderson’s telling of that classic storyline, two weavers promise a pompous, vain and egotistical emperor a new suit of clothes, which they insist is invisible to anyone who is stupid, incompetent or unfit for their high social positions. In reality, the weavers have made no clothes at all, leading everyone else to believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor proudly parades himself publicly before his kingdom’s subjects in these nonexistent threads, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear they will be seen as dumb and uncouth. Until, that is, an innocent, naive child in the crowd finally points to the emperor and cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Now, the United States of America has created its own updated version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this new American version, the emperor is none other than U.S. president Donald J. Trump, the boastful, bombastic and narcissistic emperor occupying the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a magical place called Washington DC. But instead of liberal tailors conspiring to design Trump an invisible set of royal robes (complete with overhanging necktie), an international pandemic of unprecedented proportions is what finally exposes him as the empty, ego-driven fraud of a president he has been from the beginning of his time in office.

It is COVID-19, the coronavirus disease of 2019, in fact, that has “declothed” not only Trump but other countries’ leaders as well, stripping them nude before the eyes of the world and revealing them to be no leaders at all worthy of the name. The story is still being tragically rewritten moment by moment, as the death count rises ever higher around the world.

As of this writing, about 1.70 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 210 countries and territories, with over 102,000 deaths resulting. In the U.S. alone, there are now more than half a million confirmed cases of coronavirus disease, with at least 16,000 deaths. And the peak of the pandemic still hasn’t hit; the worst looks yet to come. The public health and economic effects of the pandemic will be devastating to all our lives for years to come, no matter where we live on the planet.

(Update: The U.S. has now tallied 20,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, overtaking Italy as the country with the highest coronavirus mortality rate in the world. More than 2,000 people in the U.S. have died in one day alone, an international high in this pandemic.)

How did this happen, and who in the U.S. is to blame? There is plenty of blame to go around — especially where Emperor Trump is concerned. He openly dismissed the idea of a coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of the year, just as the first known cases of the virus were surfacing in the USA and elsewhere. He slept on the alarms that scientists were sounding worldwide about the rapid spread and ridiculed those of his own country’s citizens who dared to raise the issue in front of him or in the media.

He has congratulated and praised and flattered himself into believing that he and his staff of sycophants in the White House are doing a quote-unquote “terrific job” in containing the coronavirus, when actually they are not. Meanwhile, his most loyal set of followers — the royal eunuchs of the Republican Party and the court jesters over at Fox News — prostrate themselves daily before their majestic Chosen One in the White House.

The discord and general chaos surrounding the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has been investigated and reported in detail by a team of top reporters from the New York Times. (A summarized version can be found here.) And still, Trump and his cronies continue to maintain that all the problems the U.S. federal government has had with COVID-19 are caused by other parties.

The list of those Trump has shifted the blame to for his own failures in this crisis is a long one: the Democrats, RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), the news media, unappreciative governors in U.S. states, rival countries like China and even the World Health Organization (WHO, which happens to be headed by an African man from Ethiopia, as Trump has no doubt noticed). Trump blames everyone, that is, but himself. He openly disavows any sense of responsibility for the countless errors in judgment he has made and proudly pats himself on the back at every turn for the very few effective measures he has bothered to take.

Simply put, Trump is in way over his head in this coronavirus crisis and far out of his depth. He has no moral standing or political experience or even humane compassion to show for his actions in this pandemic. He has proven himself to be a miserable failure of a leader in every way.

That is precisely what sets Donald Trump up as the believable main character of this neo-classic folktale — let’s call it The American Emperor’s New Clothes — and the coronavirus as representing the child-figure in the story, forcefully grabbing and pulling at those loose imperial threads and declothing the emperor in no time at all, exposing him to ridicule and jeering before the anxious eyes of the world.

But to say it is only a Trumpian thing would be a bit unfair to the American emperor. After all, other nations’ leaders too have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to pass draconian laws, spy on citizens, throw critics in jail and do all the bad things they wanted to do in their countries but couldn’t get away with before.

That certainly includes the right-wing nationalist prime minister of Japan (and Trump’s favorite golfing buddy), Shinzo Abe, who has been agonizingly slow in moving to contain the coronavirus spread, starting with the disastrous quarantining of that cruise ship at the Yokohama dock early on. But that hasn’t stopped Abe from recently passing a controversial emergency-powers law that he has long wanted to get on the books. Abe and his equally reactionary finance minister, Taro Aso, are very unpopular with the Japanese public right now. The coronavirus has declothed them both and exposed them as mini-emperors of sorts (Japan already has an official emperor) who are wholly unworthy of the title of “leader”.

In countries ranging from Brazil to Israel to Hungary to the Philippines and beyond, we see the exact same declothing effect of the coronavirus, exposing so-called national leaders as the right-wing extremists, ultra-nationalists, neo-fascist dictators and greedy, self-enriching heads of state that they truly are. And standing at the front of that line of dubious emperors stripped down for all to see by the coronavirus is none other than FPOTUS, the Fake President of the United States: Donald J. Trump, the Great Pumpkin himself.

Every folktale, regardless of which culture and country it comes from, must have an ending, and so will this one. But what will be the moral of the story of the coronavirus and all these modern-day emperors with no clothes, and will we all really learn from it? If human history is any indication, we probably won’t learn a thing from this tragic pandemic story, certainly where the American version of the tale is concerned.

But unlike Hans Christian Anderson’s classic telling of The Emperor’s New Clothes, the American version of the story ends with a presidential election. Either Emperor Trump is re-elected and stays on his tainted throne or he is voted out of office, kicking and screaming in protest all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The coronavirus has revealed Trump’s many psychological and physical fault lines for public viewing, and for that, at least, we can be thankful. But it is the people, not a virus, that will ultimately decide this particular despot’s political fate. And the sheer power of that compelling storyline alone is surely enough to make all the naked emperors throughout history cover up their private parts and turn over in their proverbial graves in embarrassment and shame.

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