Alright, we all know that the coronavirus pandemic represents a confounding, completely uncertain time, but it’s precisely such unprecedented levels of confusion and anxiety that demand steady guidance from world leaders. Instead, we’ve been getting some behaviors that have left us scratching our heads and wondering if the heads of our governments are alright.
El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele, the polarizing controversial president, became the latest politician to baffle the public when he made his Twitter avatar a meme that shows him riding a spaceship while wearing a facemask, riffing off a picture he took earlier this week. To some, it was an example of the 38-year-old’s sense of humor: There had been wisecracks that he’d been staying out of the limelight recently because he’d been abducted by aliens.
He shared a shot of himself wearing a facemask at his desk on April 21, writing, “The rumors of my abduction by aliens are totally unfounded…” Then he took the joke further with the Photoshopped spaceship. To some, the meme offered some levity during a stressful moment (“Dude, I love my president. He is so cool!!” one person said). It was also in keeping the image Bukele’s tries to project as a “hip,” digitally-savvy figure who does things like take selfies at the UN and debate Residente on IG Live.
However, others saw it as entirely too cavalier, silly, inappropriate and insensitive a move, particularly during a pandemic that has claimed 2.5 million lives worldwide and continues to threaten Latin America like a dark shadow. Herds of people responded to Bukele’s photo with the word “verguenza.” The tweet also comes a week after Bukele wrestled with his Supreme Court and disregarded rulings that would have stopped him from enforcing more serious measures to curb the spread of the virus. With such government tension, many felt there were far more serious things he could be thinking and communicating to his constituents.
Sadly, Bukele’s glib, tone-deaf tweets aren’t the only example of a president using his platform in questionable ways. In Nicaragua, after an entire month of avoiding public appearances, President Daniel Ortega returned to view last Thursday with a televised media address, in which he called the coronavirus “a sign from God.” And while he leveled an entirely accurate critique against the U.S.—”There is a lack of beds and medical equipment, because healthcare isn’t available to the people, to the poor,” he said—he revealed little about his own plan to protect his own country. Ortega has refused shelter-in-place measures and his wife, vice president Rosario Murillo, has encouraged citizens to join rallies and demonstrations, including a “Love In Times Of Covid-19” solidarity march that convenes masses of people, despite the threat of COVID-19.
And then, of course, in the United States, Trump has been on a social media spree, launching into wild, tangled threats against Iran as the U.S. inches toward 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths (we’re currently at 46,013).
“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” he announced in a bewildering tweet this morning, just one day after he’d also shared his intentions to sign an executive order to shut down immigration. If we’re looking for the comforts of clarity and lucid authority right now, we at least know not to expect it here.