The news that Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 has been met with a certain amount of gloating on the left, based not only on general loathing of his person but also on his reputation as a COVID-19 denialist or at least minimizer. Now, his supporters point to such comments from ill-wishers on Twitter and elsewhere to demonstrate the Democrats’ moral indecency and whip up support for the president in an election season.
There’s almost never a good reason to celebrate someone’s potentially fatal illness (unless we’re talking about a serial killer or a perpetrator of unthinkable atrocities). But first of all, it should be noted that no leading Democrats are on the gloating bandwagon. Yes, a former Barack Obama staffer and Hillary Clinton campaign spokeswoman, Zara Rahim, tweeted "I hope he dies" (and promptly deleted the tweet), but Obama himself has sent wishes for the president’s speedy recovery, as have Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed "sadness" but has been attacked for "victim blaming" by Republicans because she also suggested that Trump brought this on by "going into crowds, unmasked."
Pelosi’s Republican critics have charged that she implied that everyone who gets COVID-19 deserves it. But whether her comment was politic reluctant nods toward treating it seriously, his instinct, consistently, has been to treat it as no big deal.
It’s hard to precisely say to what extent better policy from the White House would have reduced the pandemic’s death toll. But the lack of leadership in a crisis has been appalling. Trump did not exactly call the virus a hoax, but he came close in spring when he called criticism of his handling of the pandemic "the Democrats’ new hoax" while also suggesting that it was no more dangerous than the flu. He has also tweeted reckless calls to "liberate" states with Democratic governors from lockdowns. Many of his followers have derided anti-COVID-19 precautions — and Trump mocked Biden for constantly wearing a mask during last week’s debate.
Does anyone doubt that if Biden had gotten the disease, a chorus of Trump fans would have been mocking him for useless precautions and suggesting that masks are no more than "virtue signaling"? Would it have shocked anyone if Trump himself had retweeted comments mocking Biden’s illness? Hardly: Let’s not forget that when Hillary Clinton had a dizzy spell in a public appearance during the 2016 campaign and was diagnosed with pneumonia, the Trump camp turned "Sick Hillary" into an attack theme.
So, for Trump fans to tut-tut at the supposed lack of moral decency in the Democratic response to Trump’s illness is truly the height of chutzpah.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that Democrats have been perfect in their COVID-19 approach. Far too many were willing to forget about strict social distancing guidelines when it came to anti-racism protests in June, opening the way to charges of hypocrisy. But those protests at least nearly always featured masks, while Trump rallies have conspicuously scorned them.
At the debate, Trump defended the lack of COVID-19 precautions at his campaign events, insisting that everything has been fine — even though businessman and politician Herman Cain is dead after apparently contracting the virus at such an event.
It also appears that Trump mingled with people, unmasked, at a New Jersey fundraiser on Thursday when he already knew he’d been exposed to the virus.
The lack of decency is not on the Democrats’ side.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.