Covid 19 has divided the human world into four distinct camps.
There are those who’ve already lost – or are about to lose – their lives to this thing. That’s probably going to end up being about a half million people.
There are those who’ve already suffered – or are about to suffer – a serious setback to what they’d have otherwise hoped for their future, like an education or a career or a home. That’s likely to be about a half billion people.
There are those who’ve already had to put up with – or are about to have to put up with – some minor disappointments, like having to download the latest blockbuster rather than sit in a theatre. That’s likely to be another half billion.
And then there are those for whom this Covid 19 thing has been – or is about to be – a godsend. They’re not going to die, or even get sick. Their incomes are protected. And the lockdown is proving a golden opportunity to do things, or to get things done. Things for which otherwise they wouldn’t have had the time or energy.
I’m not sure how many fall into this godsend category, though I’m sure it’ll be somewhere between the half million and the half billion. But my point is simply this. For whatever befalls the world, there will always be winners as well as losers. Perhaps not as many of the former as the latter. But a sizeable number of them nonetheless.
And for pretty much every one of us, be we winners or losers, there’ll be losses and gains. If this be doubted, ask yourself how deeply you’d grieve if, of Covid 19’s half million fatalities, it turns out Donald Trump just happens to be among them.
I think we’re supposed to feel ashamed of these sentiments. But why? I dodged the bullet, but the guy next to me didn’t. What’s the stronger emotion: my grief for his loss or my relief for my good fortune? Why should I feel ashamed if it’s the latter?
Let’s take this a step further. Suppose that between Donald Trump and John Doe, one of the two is going to die. Why can’t I hope it’s Donald Trump rather than John Doe? Would I feel better about myself if I was indifferent to which it turned out to be? After all, I’m not deciding it’ll be Donald Trump. I’m just preferring it. Am I morally responsible for the mere having of a preference? That, for example, if someone’s going to win the lottery it should be me rather than you? Surely that’s nothing I need be ashamed of.
That said, I would be morally culpable for preferring Trump’s death to no death at all. And this is precisely why even Trump’s staunchest detractors have to feign worry about his health. But these crocodile tears aside, would Anderson Cooper or Chris Cuomo or Don Lemon be happy if Trump were taken out by the virus? Or better yet, by an overdose of hydroxychloroquine? Let’s get real. They’d be ecstatic!
Do they anticipate they’d be ecstatic? Of course they do. But apparently there’s a difference between a) knowing one would be ecstatic if Trump was taken out by the virus, and b) wanting Trump to be taken out by the virus.
So, it would seem, knowing what would make one ecstatic is morally acceptable, whereas wanting what would make one ecstatic is not. Fair enough. Well, fair but also strange. Why? Because I’d have thought that wanting what would make one happy is pretty much axiomatic!
And, dammit, I’d have thought rightly! So the anti-Trump talking-heads do want Trump dead. They just can’t say they do. And that , I think, is what’s been the most charming feature of the media’s Covid 19 coverage. So long as no one wishes him dead, Trump can’t be that bad, right? But what would happen if someone did? After all, wishing someone dead is not advocating that he be killed. So what would be the harm in voicing what half of Americans wish?
This is not a rhetorical question. The answer, were we to articulate it, would speak volumes about what it takes to establish and maintain a civil society, and a liberal democracy in particular. It would seem it takes a measured dose of self-censorship. And isn’t that both counterintuitive and revealing?
We’d do well, I think, to think about this. In my last blog I noted that civil society hangs on our sharing with each other certain thoughts we all know to be false, e.g. that “We’re all in this together!” Now we’re seeing that a liberal democracy hangs on our knowingly sharing certain druthers that we insist we all keep to ourselves. Now whodathunkit?!