Frightened people love their leaders

Frightened people love their leaders, by Freddy Gray.

This crisis is so sharp that it has made the whole populism debate redundant. It is now liberal pundits who are begging for a lockdown police state, and the public isn’t interested in whether the elites are shafting them again. In fact, the real lesson of the pandemic is one we should all know by now: frightened people like their leaders.

It doesn’t matter if those leaders are centrists or radicals, populists or technocrats. It doesn’t even matter if they made good decisions or terrible ones. What matters is that they project strength ….

That’s why Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, is enjoying such popularity — and being touted as a possible replacement Democratic nominee as the party gives up on the feeble-looking Joe Biden. He’s doing press conferences in which he projects himself as decisive and firm — the fact that New York is failing to contain the pandemic only bolsters the sense of drama and occasion around him.

Look at other leaders across the world, you can see their approval ratings ticking up — similar to those terrifying global COVID infection charts. Emmanuel Macron, the French president and darling of centrist Europhiles, has enjoyed an 11 percent bump in his approval ratings, even as his government faced massive criticism for its handling of the pandemic. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has outdone himself by delivering robust video messages to the nation despite himself having COVID-19: his popularity just hit 52 percent. Angela Merkel’s approval rating has soared to 79 percent — 11 points up from February. Most striking of all is Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, whose popularity has reached 71 percent — 27 points above his score in February. That is despite (or perhaps because of) the appalling Italian death toll.

Results don’t matter! Being complacent or incompetent and allowing the catastrophe to occur in the first place counts for nothing at the moment, because we are here now. All that matters is the appearance of strength. For now.