Shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted the unsettling news that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus, I received a text from a liberal friend on the West Coast:
"I guess we've got our October surprise," he texted. "Let's hope that Biden doesn't get it."
He was reading my mind, echoing my own thoughts and those of countless others. You don't have to be a liberal (although it helps) to go "tsk-tsk" over the president's infection and gloat at least a little with thoughts of "I told you so."
But, regardless of how I feel about the man, I respect the office. In fact, I criticize the man precisely because I respect the office. Out of respect, I believe we should stand with the president, even when we don't agree with him — and especially now, as more than 2.5 million people already have voted in an election process that will decide whether he gets to stay president for another term.
As much as I criticize this Republican president for his policies and behavior, which have caused his approval ratings to lag behind those of his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, this president in this historic moment also is my president.
Trump's coronavirus news comes only a couple of nights after a raucous campaign debate in which the president actually mocked his Democratic opponent for wearing "the biggest mask you ever saw," as if there's something wrong with following the recommendations of his own administration's health officials.
It takes a lot to turn the wearing of masks into a political statement, yet that's a major reason why the recovery in our country has been lagging behind other, less powerful industrial nations — where the Trump news triggered a trending of cynical reactions, such as "schadenfreude," German for the pleasure derived from someone else's misfortune.
Yes, the mask-shunning Macho Man Trump is part of Television Trump's long-running news and social media drama. But the virus has no regard for media stardom. After six months of refusing to follow his own public health advisers, he has become our nation's No. 1 case study in the hazards of failing to take government warnings seriously.
Even so, I sincerely hope he and the first lady have a smooth, swift recovery.
Meanwhile, we still have a COVID-19 crisis to deal with. In times of crisis, and regardless of party, Trump remains our president — the only president we've got.
I learned that lesson years ago when I, like millions of others, was drafted to serve in the national call-up for a war that I opposed. Many others, including Trump, successfully avoided it. But I served, partly as armor against anyone who might ever question my patriotism whenever I might criticize some bonehead government policy in the future.
That's right, Proud Boys and antifa, I served just so you can have the right to flaunt or trash our flag as if it belonged only to you, denigrating the very values of freedom and liberty for which it stands.
I'm one of those who believes that constructive criticism of government leaders and their policies in order to improve our government is one of the most patriotic acts that one can perform. That's also a constitutional right, which is yet another reason to love America.
It's sad that I or anyone else has to point out principles that used to be taken for granted, but today's fractured politics have become a national crisis in themselves.
After all the protests, arguments, paranoid conspiracy theories, malicious cyber disinformation and hurt feelings we have endured in recent times, it is sadly necessary to remember the values that unite us.
Those values are particularly important when our national leadership is in question and the health of our leaders is in peril. When the ties that bind us appear to be dangerously weak, it is more important than ever for us to stand strong.
Now we face another election — the results of which Trump has said he might not accept unless he wins.
Yet it's important to remember that even during our nation's own Civil War, the Union stood strong enough for us to hold a presidential election successfully. Guided by our founding principles, crises can make us stronger. Americans should know that by now.
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.