As I type this, the President of the United States Donald Trump is on his way to Walter Reed medical center after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this morning, Oct. 2. From what we know, and there’s plenty of reasons to be skeptical of anything this White House tells us, the president is “fatigued” with a fever, cough and chills.
When the news broke, I was asleep. I woke up to it, and one of the first things I encountered is the debate already ongoing about whether we should hope the president recovers from COVID-19.
The schadenfreude memes were flying just as fast as the news of his positive test result. And I get it. I enjoy dark humor, and I get it with this president.
He has routinely mocked others’ health ailments. In fact, four years ago on this exact date, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton over her pneumonia:
It’s hard to engender sympathy and empathy for someone who refuses to show it for others, and through his own actions and rhetoric, has done great harm to many people, particularly as we’re well over the threshold of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths in America due, in part, to his inept leadership.
That’s where the schadenfreude also comes in because since the beginning of this pandemic, the president has downplayed COVID-19, comparing it to the flu, saying it would magically go away, his mixed messages on masks (including mocking Joe Biden at Tuesday’s presidential debate), and pretending as if the virus doesn’t exist. So for him to get it brings into stark relief how poor his management of the coronavirus has been; it never should have reached the White House, and that it did is a microcosm of his failures to take necessary safety precautions.
But I do not cheer his positive test result and negative health condition. I would not cheer were he to get worse and/or die from COVID-19.
Those Tone Policing Lost the Moral Leg to Stand On
- Let’s get this first point out: Those who support the president and who are on the right more broadly, have lost any moral standing to tone police those who are reacting with jokes, memes, cheers, and yes, schadenfreude, over the president’s condition. Trump and his supporters have spent the last five years making cruelty the point of their “project.” Down in the gutter, morally depraved trollish cruelty has been their currency, mocking those who try to hold to any semblance of decency. For them to tone police right now is nauseating. For an example of someone without such a moral leg to stand upon:
Holding the Line on Our Humanity
- We are supposed to be better than that. One of the few issues I will die on the hill for is that someone has to hold the line on decency and humanity, even if the other side won’t. That the other side won’t makes it more imperative that we do, not less; otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom. The reason to do that has nothing to do with feeling sympathy or empathy for Donald Trump. He has earned none of that. The reason we do is because being a good moral person matters for our own personal projects and for the broader society. The murderer slated for the death penalty does not get my sympathy, but because we ought to be better than executing human beings, I will resist his execution. Not for him, but for me, and my own well-being (some call this a soul), and the culture of the society I want to live in.
2020 Doesn’t Need a Dead President, Too
- For the country’s sake, we should not want a president to get ill, be incapacitated or die. The country is already facing a once-in-a-century pandemic, whose secondary effects have resulted in 25 million unemployed Americans and who knows what other mental and physical issues, renewed protests and riots over the criminal justice system, a Supreme Court justice recently dying, and 32 days until a presidential election. Adding a dead president to that list can only make all of those issues worse, not better, no matter how low of an opinion you have of the president. There’s moral wiggle room to want the harm this president has done to end without wanting him to die.
Oscar Wilde actually put it better than I could in fewer words:
“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.”
― Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband
I don’t judge those who are gleefully swimming in schadenfreude right now, but I would implore them to think of the personal and societal reasons to reconsider.