Donald Trump Wants To Fight Coronavirus As A ‘Wartime President.’ He Can’t.Breaking News
tags: Civil War, World War I, military history, New Deal, Donald Trump, coronavirus
America has a long history of applying military metaphors to make sense of social problems. We have had wars on social problems from drug use, poverty, obesity, terrorism, energy dependence and hunger and wars on diseases like AIDS, cancer, syphilis and tuberculosis.
The war metaphor intends to motivate a national spirit of action to propel the whole of society to confront a problem as it would an existential threat of violence and conquest by a foreign nation. But the enemy is not a foreign nation with borders, armies and counter-propaganda. The enemy is either a concept that cannot understand defeat; or in the case of disease, a microbe, a virus or a cellular disorder. The coronavirus is “the invisible enemy,” according to Trump.
All of these war metaphors can trace their lineage to a 1906 speech, turned into a 1910 essay, by pragmatist philosopher William James titled “The Moral Equivalent of War.”
James’ speech came amid a global nationalist and militarist revival. American militarists, like President Theodore Roosevelt, argued that war and military organization were the only national endeavors that instilled true character in men. It hardened men and taught them to serve a higher force beyond their petty personal interest.
This was necessary, advocates of militarism argued, as the modern, industrial and cosmopolitan world created since the Civil War had confused, disordered, softened and feminized men. (They also argued it had confused and masculinized women.)
James was not a militarist. He counted himself among the “anti-war party.” But he agreed with their broader sentiment that war and military organization instilled character in men and in the nation. He also envisioned a much more active national government working to solve social problems. To bring about such a robust national government, he advocated that the same character and national spirit created from the brutality of war should be summoned for the peaceful mobilization of men to solve social problems for the nation.
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