Arnold Schwarzenegger on Coronavirus: Stay Home

Over Zoom the other night, about an hour after he got out of the hot tub—by then he’d dried off and put on a Terminator: Dark Fate T-shirt—I asked him if maybe the movies we should be thinking about more are from his own catalog. Does he think we are in the prelude to Terminator?

“I mean, not now,” he told me. “But look, I still think that if everyone stays with the program and stays more isolated and away from other people, we can overcome this with a five rather than a 10.”

You can listen to our conversation in a bonus episode of The Ticket: Politics from The Atlantic, up now:

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You’ve watched Schwarzenegger blow up all kinds of things on-screen, using all kinds of things. What you probably don’t know is that in real life he’s obsessed with disaster preparedness—and that while he’s mugging with his mini-horse and mini-donkey or pulling up the latest documentary his kids have recommended, what he really wants is to be in charge. A decade after finishing up as governor, he’s sitting at home watching the action on TV and wishing he could be showing up at hospitals and other sites to solve problems and break down bureaucratic hold-ups, even if that would mean arriving in a full protective suit. “You’re treated differently if you walk around,” he reasoned. He wants to be ordering drills to test readiness for massive patient influxes. He wants to be the one cutting through the delays in getting more beds and masks. He told me about finding out that a company had 22,000 spare cots for use in a wildfire emergency, which the state couldn’t access, because the ownership had changed and switched the locks, and no one could track down who had the passcode. He went off on a tangent about how so many hospitals have gotten waivers on earthquake-proofing that he knows California is not ready for a big one. These are the kinds of situations in which the man who played Conan the Barbarian, the Terminator, and John Kimble wants to be let loose.

“There are moments, and especially moments like this, where I feel like, Oh, that would be really great to be there now,” Schwarzenegger told me.  

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, has become a pandemic-response star in the past two weeks, applying his usual Machiavellian power moves to deal with the disaster. President Donald Trump continues to pick petty fights from the White House podium, interspersing false promises and hunch-based “science” with temper tantrums. Joe Biden has basically disappeared from view, doing what he says are hours of calls each day with advisers, and slowly setting up a press-briefing area in the rec room of his Wilmington, Delaware, home. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has been riffing for his millions of social-media followers (he calls his playful, absurdist jokes “Arnold-isms”), hoping to break through to the people who have heard all the warnings from government and public-health officials but are still going to places like the Florida beaches and the Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms. “People enjoy that it’s unscripted when I do those messages. It’s not reading off a teleprompter or anything. I don’t do the political kind of stuff. I just say what my concerns are,” he said.

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