When US president Donald Trump was airlifted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after contracting Covid-19, he quickly became a cautionary tale.
His combed-over image of frivolity in the face of Covid-19 morphed into widespread derision.
He seemed to be on the ropes. However, for a man whose businesses have filed for bankruptcy several times, Trump fights best from the ropes.
Whenever he seems to be finished, he rallies with a classic rope-a-dope.
Which is a boxing strategy originated by Muhammad Ali in his 1974 Rumble in the Jungle fight against then world champion George Foreman.
In that fight, Ali leaned against the ropes while soaking up Foreman’s punches. Then, quite unexpectedly, knocked out his exhausted opponent in the 8th round.
Trump left the hospital after only two days. He then had his picture taken as he took off his mask to project a commanding image to the public.
It seemed to work.
US stocks rose sharply. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a stock market barometer, jumped 465.83 points.
The Nasdaq Composite, a stock index of equities listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, added 257.47 points.
If the markets rally further, the 45th president’s performance will echo the 30th US president Calvin Coolidge’s dictum: “The chief business of the American people is business.”
This cannot hurt Trump’s hopes for re-election. Especially in light of a global economic downturn characterised by reduced growth and a sharp rise in unemployment.
Due to this downturn, people are increasingly more interested in financial than medical health.
President Trump speaks to this global constituency. Supposedly hemmed in by Covid-19 guidelines which seem to provide greater security in growing poverty.
While most of us accept that this pandemic is real, we simply can’t accept the bitter irony of having a life deprived of a living. So, with respect to Covid-19 guidelines, a childish rebelliousness has replaced a child-like responsiveness.
As Trump plays to this rebelliousness, he reminds us of Sir Winston Churchill during World War II.
Although Churchill’s wrongheadedness cost Britain lives and prestige in the Gallipoli campaign of World War I, this same quality turned him into a hero during World War II.
Trump is no Churchill. But he does portray the same air of reckless enthusiasm which Churchill used to strengthen the sinews of a country under siege from Hitler’s Germany.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, is caution personified.
“I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” Trump said of Biden. “You could be speaking 200 feet away” and then “he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen”.
Even though he often treats the presidency like a chew toy, Trump appears oddly heroic. By thumbing his nose at a disease which has left close to eight million Americans sick and more than 215, 039 dead, one could say he has the “divine stupidity of a hero”.
Again, by taking this pandemic less seriously than it should be taken, he inadvertently reminds us that life is a fatal condition. So even if Covid-19 doesn’t kill us, life will.
Our mortality may have visited us in the shape of this pandemic, but we need to temper our fear of infection with a fearlessness that forestalls mass hysteria. This will restore the old normal amid the ruins of the new.
More, we must be insubordinate to our fears if we are to subordinate our fears. Defy convention, so invention sets us free.
To do this, we need boundary-pushing leaders, like Trump, who inspire confidence that this “new normal” may be fatal, but not final.
Mr Matogo is the managing editor Fasihi Magazine.