Trump, scha·den·freu·de, and anger

I’m working something out.

Until very recently, my Republican (not Conservative) acquaintances have felt perfectly comfortable mocking my liberal friends for wearing masks during the world-outbreak of “the novel coronavirus.” Their contempt fit. It made sense, given that Republicans have allowed Trump to mock disabled Americans; women; indigenous Americans; Latinos; all minorities; immigrants and the countries immigrants fled; overweight women (truly ironic, given his obesity); people whose “genes” might not hold up to the scrutiny of Minnesotan Trumpers; women in professions like journalism.

Republicans let Trump run wild, and eagerly took up his cause. They refused to wear masks. Not wearing masks became, as I recently read, the equivalent of a MAGA hat, a sign of political opposition to “lib-tards.” Grandchildren in arms, mask-less Republicans patiently explained to me that “people die.” They wanted their stores opened! They wanted to Restaurant! Grandchildren not in arms, they screamed at essential grocery store employees about their rights, about produce workers trying to take away freedom. In the privacy of their Facebook worlds, they posted images of Jews being loaded onto trains in Germany with captions that read, “Now I know how this happened.” Because public health = deep-state final-solution.

They promoted Civil War. “Locked and Loaded” read many Twitter feeds, particularly in the South or anywhere David Nunes and Kevin McCarthy stepped foot in California (they don’t come to LA or San Francisco very frequently).

So. Now. Something’s changed. I wonder what.

President Trump has COVID – 19. He and his wife. Potentially, Sean Hannity. Chris Wallace. His primary political opponent. Anybody whose come to his mask-less events. Other legislators. Reporters. Those he ridiculed for caring about other people’s health.

True to form, there has been an avalanche of “appropriate commentary” from liberals who just recently considered him an Enemy of the State. “I wish him a speedy recovery.” “Let’s not engage in schadenfreude — he’s a man, first, and we shouldn’t wish sickness on anyone.”

How moral…and how correct. We shouldn’t…be happy.

Republicans wouldn’t be so moral, I don’t think. Remember when Ruth Bader Ginsberg died? According to the Washington Post, the President’s aides didn’t tell Trump before a rally performance she had passed because they were afraid he would tell his adoring crowds and they would cheer. On my own Facebook feed, one of my acquaintances suggested RBG’s death was an act of God, and wrote “Thank God she’d dead.” If Biden had COVID, Republicans would be prepping stakes to put him out of his misery. Just imagine Tom Cotton carving a stake, and see how real that image is.

But this doesn’t matter, not really. Judging my actions with a Republican yardstick is…not wise. Even though Trump has now been struck by the very disease he discredited, and pointing out that irony in ways subtle and gross would give me much pleasure, there is something stopping me.

What?

Those very people who support this walking disgrace to the Presidency stop me from being happy. This is what I’m working out. His supporters/enablers/complicitors (which is evidently becoming a word) are probably hurting. And maybe scared. They now have existential proof that not taking nature seriously…is a serious mistake. Their icon and idol will probably get better, as he’ll have much better care than Black America has had with respect to COVID, but that doesn’t compute in Red America right now. It hurts to have your gods de-godded. As Gustave Flaubert said in Madame Bovary, you have to be careful in dealing with golden icons; the gilt surface rubs off very easily.

Consider Trump rubbed clean. That’s got to hurt those who trusted the plating.

Which is why scha·den·freu·de is wrong. The word means, literally, “harm-joy.” Taking joy in some else’s suffering. Let’s be clear here: schadenfreude rarely occurs outside an atmosphere of hypocrisy; getting happy at the suffering of an ethical person doesn’t usually make much sense. But “watching,” say, the President of Liberty University get strung up in a sexual threesome (ooops, audienced twosome) makes sense when you remember that the Falwells have been carving moral judgement into bludgeons for decades.

Honestly, there is hypocrisy here in Trump’s case. There are lies and misinformation, and Trump seems to have been felled by his own world-view (or weltanschauung): he’s a man, men are strong, etc., etc. But I am not happy he has been infected, and not because he matters to me. Consonant with public Republican pronouncements, not every human being matters; remember, they were the ones who want to storm-open the economy because “PEOPLE DIE ANYWAY.”

No. I am not happy Trump is sick because I still have some affection for some of his supporters. I don’t want to see them in pain. I’m working through this. But as it stands, schadenfreude is out. I hope Trump gets better. It does feel wrong to want anyone to suffer, even those people who have caused so much suffering. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m working through it.

But on another point, I’m crystal clear. While I’m not happy he’s sick, I am very very angry that he has caused so much suffering, reflected rather than assuaged our country’s divisions, given shout-outs to ProudBoys even as he mocks a candidate for wearing a big mask. Trump doesn’t deserve my joy that he has a potentially deadly disease. I know what it’s like to have people look on disease and wish it on others (Republicans during the AIDS crisis); I never want to cause that kind of pain, and a small part of me still believes in redemption.

That is where anger comes in. Trump does deserve my anger. He has done horrific things, many of them to people who cannot fight back. He deserves the anger of a nation he lied to. He deserves our anger for becoming an icon of modern civil war. (Make no mistake, Republicans: he is not a mirror, as you claim; he is mirroring America’s divisions, and like a funhouse game blowing us out of proportion.)

My anger is healthy. Anger is necessary. Anger is redemptive. I’m angry this stupid man was allowed to inflict his moronic ego on the nation, which means I’m also angry at Trump’s enablers. I wish him a speedy recovery. But if I’m honest, I wish him that recovery so that I still have the chance to make him — and his supporters — pay for what they have done to the country.

Trump’s illness is a chance to remember our humanity. His recovery is a chance to exact justice. That won’t happen unless my liberal friends remember that it is completely necessary to be both humane toward and angry at a man who got burned by his own wildfire.


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