You can’t have missed the news – President Donald Trump has contracted Covid-19. The reaction was initially one of shock across the world but, if you follow your news online, it became increasingly ghoulish. Mocking turned into thousands of wishes that the president would die, in one of the internet’s darkest moments yet. I genuinely feel sick at some of the stuff I’ve read, and I had to write something – I get that people don’t like the man, but this is something else entirely.
From the off, it’s worth stating that I don’t think Trump should be beyond criticism here. It’s certainly the case that the president has been rather blasé about Covid in public, often not wearing a mask in public appearances and frequently talking down the threat the virus poses. It’s also true that America has been hit really hard by the virus, hosting around a quarter of the world’s cases (just under 7.5 million at the time of writing). Exactly how much of this is directly attributable to Trump is debatable – states have largely run their own Covid responses, and the federal government has provided all requested help – but Trump is the figurehead of the country. What happens in America is, ultimately, his responsibility.
It has revealed one of humanity’s darkest sides
There is a certain irony in Trump contracting a virus he downplayed, and I do see that – I’d be surprised if there weren’t jokes and mockery. But it’s gone beyond that – people are actively and openly wishing that the president dies, and that’s really disturbing. It’s easy to dismiss the reaction as just the mark of random people on Twitter, and tons of them have (of course) been sending hateful messages. One particularly callous message read: “I hope he dies a gruelling death unable to breathe with nobody by his side.”
But the point is that a lot of big names have also weighed in, mocking Trump or sending death wishes his way. In an interview on Good Morning Britain, Dominic West said that he “leap[ed] in the air with joy” when he heard the news, and “what goes around comes around”. Dr Jill Stein, the Green Party’s 2012 and 2016 presidential candidate, tweeted: “As Martin Luther King said, the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Looks like it just took a hairpin turn.”
Zara Rahim, a former Obama administration official and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign staffer, said: “It’s been against my moral identity to tweet this for the past four years, but, I hope he dies.” This view was shared by former Warren campaign staffer Max Berger, who wrote: “I can’t think of anything more distasteful than wishing death upon another human, except maybe causing preventable mass death because you don’t want to damage the stock market or your reelection chances. All jokes aside, I hope the President injects himself with bleach.”
It’s hard to think of anything lower than actively gloating that your political enemy could be on his deathbed, and hoping they’ll succumb to a deadly virus
There are two major factors that render the reaction disturbing. The whole opposition to Trump was based on a single idea, articulated by Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.” It is an expression intended to reduce anger, to turn down the volume and help us understand one another. Faced with hateful rhetoric, we should prove ourselves better by rising above it – anger, smears and hatred only win if we all sink down to that level. It’s hard to think of anything lower than actively gloating that your political enemy could be on his deathbed, and hoping they’ll succumb to a deadly virus.
This leads me onto my second point – I genuinely can’t imagine how it’s possible to hold that level of hatred in your heart. There are politicians and people I don’t like in the world, but to celebrate them potentially being fatally ill and enthusiastically wishing them harm – it doesn’t bear thinking about. Holding venom in your heart can only prove poisonous, and I’d encourage you to genuinely reflect on your emotions if you feel that way. You don’t have to like Trump, as a politician or as a person – no-one is saying that – but disliking a man’s policies and hoping he dies are two very different things.
The reaction to Trump’s Covid diagnosis is disturbing because it has revealed one of humanity’s darkest sides. Political discourse is now so polarised, an unpleasant man has been framed as a unique monster who needs to be eliminated, and people have been praying for his death as a result. We’d do better as a society to steer clear of the well of hatred.