The TV is on all day in this office, with screens showing sport or the news. Right now, President Trump, in a red baseball cap, bomber jacket and enormous white trousers, is talking to a group of men who are smarter than him.
The sound is down so Trump is muted (hallelujah) but you can’t miss his gee-you-know-I’m-a-genius-really face.
I check later and his visit, repeated endlessly like Groundhog Day at the lip of time, was to a centre for disease control and prevention in Atlanta.
The other men, the ones who look more like presidents than Trump, are experts in disease control. Trump is an expert only in being Donald Trump. He holds up an image of the coronavirus, as it if were a drawing he’d just done in class that morning.
Trump doesn’t like experts. He has disparaged experts since his election. Experts tell him things he doesn’t wish to hear. Experts say the climate crisis is real and not something cooked up by the Chinese. Out with experts.
Trump deploys his lack of knowledge as vacuum shield that sucks in everything around. He spouts nonsense as if it were a magic mantra.
He insisted the coronavirus crisis did not exist, but suddenly that crisis has put experts to the fore again. Who you gonna trust – the world’s most infamous gobshite or experts who know that they are talking about?
Suddenly people in the US want to listen to experts. It’s the same here and never mind all that pre-Brexit idiocy from Michael Gove about how, “People in this country have had enough of experts”.
Trump’s first instincts were to ignore the experts, politicise the crisis, and blame Barack Obama (everything is always his fault). All that self-serving bluster wasted valuable time. Then he visited experts in suits and said he could do their job as he had a good mind.
He is still popping up on that screen when the late shift ends. On social media, which after all is Trump’s playground, people are sharing scurrilous theories about how beneath those capacious white trousers the president now wears adult nappies. It is not possible to know if this is true, so let’s hurry on.
In the supermarket the next day, amid reports of toilet roll riots, everything is calm. Lavatory tissue is lined up in abundance, although pasta is in short supply and, oddly, nearly all the bread flour has gone. This suggests my fellow bakers are more panicky that I realised.
There is an odd irony in selling out of pasta, the unacknowledged national food of Britain. Most pasta comes from Italy, the European country hardest hit by the coronavirus.
This morning northern Italy is in lockdown, while we all go hunting for dried pasta shapes. Boris Johnson is telling us that we don’t need to panic buy, and he may be right, but people will still panic. That’s what they do; what we do.
I try not to panic, but no longer know if I am being too sanguine by half. The thing is, does panicking help? Is stockpiling toilet paper sensible? Almost certainly not, but once people start grabbing everything off the shelves, it’s hard to stop them.
Boris Johnson came to power promising to see off the “doomsters and gloomsters” but now his slyly arranged cheerfulness runs into a real crisis. One where the ability of the NHS to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus sufferers could be harmed by a decade of cuts imposed by his party.
Johnson, like Trump, would surely believe this to all be a fuss about nothing, a distraction from the yellow brick road he pointed us along. But those yellow bricks no longer seem to be pointing in the right direction.