Donald Trump has finally contracted COVID-19, and much of the civilised world immediately broke out into spontaneous celebration. There’s one good thing about this particular global pandemic : the virus seems especially interested in right-wing political leaders, although it hasn’t managed to kill any yet. Trump joins our own Peter Dutton, Britain’s Boris Johnson, and Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right President of Brazil who has tested positive an incredible three times.
And it’s not hard to see why this keeps happening. After a visit to a hospital treating coronavirus patients, Johnson boasted that he “shook hands with everybody”. A few weeks later he was sent to the intensive care unit. Bolsonaro’s virus denialism has led to a social catastrophe which has claimed nearly 150,000 lives.
And of all of them, Trump is probably the most notorious for downplaying the significance of the virus, and for his willingness to sacrifice lives for the health of the economy. Trump has given support to far-right demonstrators demanding economic reopening, threatened to cut funding to schools that don’t return to in-person teaching, and made a point of flouting medical advice regarding social distancing. That’s why everyone had the same thought: Trump has been hoisted by his own petard.
The virus was probably transmitted at the White House Rose Garden event announcing Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. Typical of the hypocrisy of “pro-life” figures, Barrett has kick-started this phase of her career by infecting eight people with a deadly disease.
As soon as the news broke, millions took to social media to celebrate. #thereisagod trended on Twitter, and many implored Trump to follow his own medical advice by drinking bleach.
But some weren’t so happy: Democratic politicians and liberal commentators have united to wish Trump a speedy recovery, and chastise those who take pleasure from his suffering. MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, a titan of American media liberalism, tweeted: “God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery — and for everyone infected, everywhere. This virus is horrific and merciless — no one would wish its wrath on anyone.”
Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders have all sent personal statements of support to the ailing President. In a show of solidarity, Joe Biden’s campaign has pulled all negative ads about Trump from the airwaves.
It’s puzzling: many of these same people have spent the last four years arguing that Trump is a fascist who presents an existential threat to democracy, if not humanity. Maddow herself has been suggesting that Trump is a fascist since 2015. It’s like if the film Downfall, depicting the last days of the Third Reich, ended with Hitler’s opponents storming the bunker and screaming “Don’t do it, Adolf! You have so much to live for!”
Democrats want to send Trump prayers and positive vibes because of their ingrained, habitual ruling class solidarity. Democrats and establishment liberals like to present themselves as fierce opponents of the Trump administration, but they are all fundamentally on the same team, united in their defence of the system.
In fact, if there’s one thing they really don’t like about Trump, it’s that he doesn’t always adhere to the taboo that says you can’t disrespect people in the ruling class. He might not wish them well if they got sick. Democrats want to prove that they’d rule the US better than Trump, because they’d be less rude to ruling class monsters.
The Democrats who wish Trump a speedy recovery are showing their love of an inhuman system. The millions of ordinary people celebrating Trump’s illness are the ones showing real humanity. There’s a great virtue in oppressed people encouraging joyful, open hatred of our ruling-class enemies.
In 1945, people gathered, laughed and celebrated when the Italian fascist Benito Mussolini was apprehended and hung upside down from the Piazzale Loreto in Milan. When Margaret Thatcher, the hated pioneer of neoliberalism, died in 2013, parties broke out spontaneously across the United Kingdom. One elderly woman, interviewed on the news, was asked to find some room in her heart while Thatcher’s funeral was still ongoing. Her response was blunt: “I’d put a stake through her heart and garlic round her neck to make sure she never comes back.”
Sadly, Trump will probably survive his bout with COVID-19. Capitalism only offers us homeopathic doses of karmic justice. A billionaire President who pays less in tax than an average teacher, and has fought to undermine access to healthcare for millions, is receiving first class government-funded treatment. But while there is still hope, we should hold on to it.
The celebration of Mussolini’s death came at a time when millions of Italians who had been ground into the dirt for two decades were only beginning to find their feet, and make their voices heard against a fundamentally inhuman system. Now, as social revolt again begins to sweep the world, let’s hope that soon we can delight in our oppressors being brought down, and organise a new world where pigs like Trump aren’t in charge.