Late Thursday evening, President Trump (or possibly NBA reporter Shams Charania) broke the news that both he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The ramifications stemming from a positive test are gargantuan. Joe Biden, having faced Trump in the initial presidential debate on Tuesday, has so far tested negative but will likely need to be tested again; so, too, will the hundreds of people with whom Trump and aide Hope Hicks have been in close contact, often maskless, over the past 48 hours. The stock market, that measure most useful for calculating obscene executive bonuses, opened this morning and immediately dipped 400 points. Vice President Mike Pence, who tested negative, will have to be prepped on what will happen should he need to step into the presidency if Trump’s condition worsens or, well, he dies.
But at the end of the day, you can’t change any of that. It’s happening. The only thing any of us can really control for is how we feel, which is maybe why a small war has erupted among the punditry about the Right Way to respond to this news.
The facts: The president’s wanton attitude toward mask-wearing, social distancing, and mandatory shutdowns—and the subsequent inaction by those in elected office who supported him—have contributed to the loss of more than 200,000 lives in this country. Trump has not shown a modicum of responsibility or regret for his actions; instead, he spent the summer and early fall politicizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and prodding his white supremacist supporters to grow increasingly violent. He is a Bad Man, is what I’m saying. After months of exacerbating a deadly pandemic, the president has now caught the thing he called a hoax. Do you really have to feel bad for him?
In the immediate aftermath of his announcement, the Beltway crowd offered a resounding “Yes!” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked those that pray to pray for the Trumps’ “speedy and complete recovery.” Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they, too, would be praying for the president. Political Knowers like Jeff Greenfield wondered aloud if the morally prudent move for Biden included a temporary suspension of his campaign. On the right, a senior editor at The Federalist intoned about how their church prays for every president and elected leader. Permanent 24-year-old Ben Shapiro sarcastically commented on how heinously he expected the aforementioned “blue-checkmark Left” would respond.
Other people went outside and set off fireworks.
Statistically, there is a good chance that everybody in America knows somebody who has come down with the coronavirus, and that number is significantly higher if you are a nonwhite, nonwealthy person. It is impossible to separate this from the president’s record. Trump has spent the past seven months downplaying the effects of the virus and offered little empathy for those who have lost loved ones, while his administration has purposefully blocked a meaningful economic salve for the hordes of unemployed. A natural response, displayed by plenty, has been to express anger and hatred toward the nation’s chief executive.
Speaking with Unholier Than Thou podcast host Phillip Picardi before the positive test was announced, Reverend Broderick Greer was asked to respond to Picardi’s general question of how to reckon with these kinds of negative emotional responses toward figures like Trump. “There is room for anger and hate,” Greer said, commenting specifically on how Christianity should allow for its followers to feel more at ease with expressing and harboring these emotions. Greer continued, “We have to be able to give ourselves the permission to say, ‘I want to orient myself toward the goal of being a forgiving person, if I can get to that point,’ and sometimes the desire to forgive is as good as forgiveness itself.”
Trump’s positive test does not, and should not, alter one’s preexisting feelings about him, because they were and are a reflection of a painful lived reality, one that is not materially altered by a wealthy man most people will never meet coming down with the coronavirus. If you were pissed or outraged at Trump before Thursday night, that anger has likely not dissipated between then and now; it’s just been briefly abetted by either a sliver of schadenfreude or a pang of guilt. And both responses are fine! He’s going to recover, or he won’t. Your reaction, ultimately, doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.
The emotional response to a situation like this is going to be understandably complex and varied. The weight of Trump’s mortality will supersede the actions of his administration for many, while others see it as karmic justice, and others will sit on the fence, unsure of whether giving in to these kinds of emotions is only to condemn themselves. The truth is, there is no right way to feel or respond to this kind of news, and there’s little use in positing oneself as the arbiter of what a proper response looks like. If you want to pray, fine. If you want to dance a little jig in your kitchen, fine.