Daniel Defoe wrote A Journal of the Plague Year in 1722, when he was in his mid-fifties and half a century after he’d witnessed the actual plague year in 1665, when he was 5 or 6. The documentation was less his eyes than his uncle’s, whose journal was Defoe’s raw material. He brings us into the plague-stricken houses one by one—“it surrounded me at so dismal a rate that there was not a house in twenty uninfected.”
Someone out there, or some millions, must be writing their own diary of this plague year, stretched as it might for four, possibly eight, though it would take an army of diarists to keep up with the carnage: every hour turns up its neighborhood of stricken houses. This hour’s crop: the poles are melting and the Atlantic is rising at our own shores, but it now appears as if the United States will pull out of the Paris climate accords. Walk a few steps to another house, and it’s the reappeared Ben Carson calling poverty a “state of mind.” Next block it’s Rex Tillerson, the ostensible secretary of state, refusing to host the traditional Ramadan event his predecessors, Republicans and Democrats, have hosted for 20 years. Not for him, ecumenism. (Or press conferences.) Can’t blame him for not wanting to brook his boss’ Islamophobia though. Either that or he was busy biking. (The plague is sparing Canada.)
Next block and it’s that deadlier mutant, the white-supremacist strain of the plague, out in Portland, where two men trying to stop a bigot from insulting a Muslim woman are stabbed and killed. To add insult to murder, the bigot is called “Christian.” He had a field day in court, that one: “That’s what liberalism gets you,” he said at one point, presumably blaming the presence of Muslims in his midst on tolerance, and also this: “I hope they all die. I’m gonna say that on the stand. I’m a patriot, and I hope everyone I stabbed died.” With patriots like that, no wonder we don’t need the Russians as adversaries anymore. Kushner and his gang are onto something. “I can go no farther here,” Defoe wrote at the end of his account. “I should be counted censorious, and perhaps unjust, if I should enter into the unpleasing work of reflecting, whatever cause there was for it, upon the unthankfulness and return of all manner of wickedness among us, which I was so much an eye-witness of myself.”
Meanwhile the leader of the free world, quote unquote—on “leader,” not “free world”—is busy tweeting about “covfefe,” whatever that means. In the assisted-living Neverland that’s become our White House, all pretense of reality is giving way to the sort of sycophant fawning previously associated with the yes-men around North Korea’s or Egypt’s dictators. Judging from yesterday’s Spicer chapter from the book of laughter and unforgettable, the president’s just-ended farce through the Mideast (“and Israel”) and Europe was a greater achievement of diplomacy than anything ever achieved by Richelieu, Talleyrand, Bismarck and FDR combined.
At least we still have Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to lead the free world. They seem disinclined to treat heretics as their ancestors once did during their recurring plague years. Clearly, that “state of mind” is more of an American thing now.