Covid-19 & the Emperor’s New Clothes

We all know the story of the emperor’s new clothes. In it, the emperor is hoodwinked by rogues who take his money and make him…nothing. “Nothing” that his advisors, fearful of offending him, declare to be the finest finery in the land.

Then, the emperor dons the non-existent robes…and a little child calls him out, exclaiming, “But the Emperor has nothing on at all!”

Except…The original fable, by Hans Christian Andersen, is a little more complex.

“But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child.

“Listen to the voice of innocence!” exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.

“But he has nothing at all on!” at last cried out all the people.

The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.

And that is where the story ends. Not with the emperor’s…exposure…but with the realization that even if the child’s accusation  was correct, the show must go on.

This, I fear, is the point to which U.S. politics have gotten. It doesn’t matter if the emperor has no clothes. We must continue to pretend to hold up his gown’s train.

In the story, the only person who is truly discomfited is the emperor, parading naked through the streets. Today, the stakes are much higher, whether your particular concern is reducing the death rate from covid-19, or avoiding economic collapse.

We need to see Andersen’s wisdom and realize that the lords whose jobs depend on maintaining the Emperor’s pretense may not be the people we most want to emulate.

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