Stop extending sympathy to the sickest members of our political class.
This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.
A bunch of the worst, most powerful people in the United States getting COVID-19 is objectively a bad thing, in that it raises the risk for others. People like Donald Trump, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, chronically humiliated Trump go-fer Chris Christie, and depraved propagandists Kellyanne Conway and Kayleigh McEnany have made a political identity of their recklessness and disregard for human life. They’ll now expose (have already exposed!) others to a deadly virus and put further strain on our healthcare system, all as millions of ordinary people in this country try to do the right thing and take basic precautions so that we can get through this pandemic and care for the sick. A deadly contagion is a deadly contagion, and we’re all in it together, including people who are incapable of understanding the concept of “all in it together.”
Still, if you want to laugh and let the schadenfreude roll over you like a blissful tide, you should do so without remorse. The satisfaction is simple: These people are finally experiencing tangible consequences for their behavior, in a toxic political environment that so often shields them from any real form of accountability. There’s very little right-wing politicians can say or do that will cost them support from an increasingly violent base of supporters that dwells in an alternate reality. Republicans have worked diligently to suppress, intimidate, and confuse voters on the other side, to the extent that elected Republicans don’t really feel the need to serve the public at large. The checks and balances we have in place are not holding up under an all-out rampage of corruption and authoritarianism.
The positive test results encircling the inner orifice of the Trump cult remind us that even people who’ve cashed in their humanity are, physically at least, human, that their selfishness and wilful stupidity can actually backfire in a meaningful way. We can’t take that for granted right now. There’s nothing wrong with savoring it. Dark times call for a dark sense of humor, especially at the expense of our evil rulers.
Politicians and commentators from across the ideological spectrum have been admonishing us over the past week that we need to extend our sympathy to elected officials who’ve allowed tens of thousands of people to die preventable deaths. We’re also told that we need people like Trump and Johnson to be “well,” as if people operating at a severe moral and psychological deficit, one of whom is a genocidal mound of tannery scraps, can ever have been well in the first place. This is sick pageantry that extends bountiful sympathy to the powerful and cruelly ignores everyone else’s suffering. Johnson, elected in 2010 on the premise that rich white sociopaths have too little influence in government, reminded us in March that “Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life”—as thousands of Wisconsinites watched their incomes collapse and feared for their basic safety. Johnson has opposed economic relief during the pandemic. He’s a deadbeat politician combined with a deadbeat boss, and he would really prefer that poor people shut up and get back to work, even if it means risking their lives.
We absolutely do not need these deeply unwell people operating at capacity, because all they do at full strength is inflict more corruption, race hatred, and neglect on a population that’s already terrified and exhausted. Ron Johnson and Donald Trump would grind us up for fertilizer if the math looked good to them. Trump wanted to have in-person rallies in Wisconsin just last week, as our state experienced a catastrophic surge in cases. Johnson attended a Republican Oktoberfest party in Mequon while awaiting his test results. What we need is to remove these people from ever holding power or participating in public life, or we will never be well.
Photo via Flickr.