The Bible says: “as a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”
I mention this because there have been a whole lot of dogs returning to their vomit lately. By “dogs” I mean assorted norm respecters and Very Serious Pundits and #resistance Twitter scolds, and by “vomit” I mean “saying nice things about Donald Trump simply because he’s the president.”
Look, the fact Trump is currently riddled with the coronavirus while he’s holed up on a hospital bed getting pumped with experimental serums has understandably broken a lot of people’s brains (mine included). I get that. That’s fine. What’s insane to me, however, is the bizarre outpouring of support for Trump from some of the very people who have made their careers out of priding themselves on speaking their truths to his fascist power.
Take Rachel Maddow, who on Friday urged god to “bless the president,” and encouraged her followers to pray for the same man she’s spent the past four years excoriating as a Russian spy who is literally dismantling the country piece by piece. Then, during her nightly MSNBC broadcast, Maddow tried to gin up sympathy for Trump by comparing him to a hypothetical “friend” who contracts lung cancer after years as a smoker.
In addition to Maddow’s analogy being brain-blisteringly insane, it’s also totally unnecessary. If you truly see Trump as the sort of existential threat that Maddow clearly seems to believe he is — or at least encourages her viewers to believe he is — then wishing him well enough to return to the Oval Office should be the last thing you’d think she’d want, right?
Or take, for instance, the New York Times, a paper so committed to the mirage of neutral detachment that its chief White House correspondent can say this…
For me, it’s easier to stay out of the fray if I never make up my mind, even in the privacy of the kitchen or the voting booth, that one candidate is better than another, that one side is right and the other wrong
…and think it makes him sound like the embodiment of Good Journalism, rather than a dork with his head in the sand or up his ass or possibly alternating back and forth between sand and ass.
When the Trump’s COVID diagnosis became public on Friday, the editorial board of the Times — a paper that, for years, has published both opinion pieces and deeply investigated reports detailing the many ways the president is a racist, a liar, a cheat, a crook, and a generally shitty person — gathered up its significant journalistic heft to tell the president to “get well.”
Again I ask: why? What good does this do? Who is this even for?
Then (and I say this with a deep, profoundly exhausted sigh) there’s Bob Woodward, a journalism icon for decades who just last month exposed the president as having willfully lied to the public about the dangers of the coronavirus. But on Friday, Woodward paradoxically claimed that “there’s almost universal agreement that [Trump is] a warrior” whom the media should simply wish well, rather than dwelling on the specifics of his diagnosis.
The list goes on…
…and excruciatingly on.
The compulsion to retreat to the politics of respectability — to take the high road when not taking any road is a perfectly reasonable option — is one that will absolutely come back to kick its practitioners in the teeth. If Trump has shown America anything (other than his ass) it’s that there is nothing to be gained from Michelle Obama’s axiom of “going high” beyond a smug sense of satisfaction at how Good and Polite and Honorable you are. Which is to say: It’s generally useless.
Look at the Biden campaign’s decision to pull their negative ads while Trump convalesces at Walter Reed hospital. Is it a savvy political move? Maybe. But the Trump camp’s response — to continue to run their negative ads contra any spirit of detente — is a firm reminder that Republicans don’t give a shit who takes which road. They only care about winning.
Despite the proliferation of Twitter scolds who would have everyone treat all this as an extremely somber moment, I think it’s fine if people want to feel absolutely no unhappiness at all that someone whose unique nexus of maliciousness and incompetence contributed to literally hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths is suddenly being forced to grapple with the consequences of their actions on an intimate and personal level. Trump spent months lying about, downplaying, and encouraging people to ignore the risk of coronavirus. His contracting COVID is an inevitable (at least in retrospect) coda to nearly a year of selfish obfuscation and ass-covering at the expense of pretty much everyone who isn’t him.
This obsession with acting like Trump is a normal president who deserves the “respect” of his office — itself a pretty dubious proposition — has time and again been proven a worthless exercise in norms adulation. Even if you don’t specifically wish Trump ill, there’s absolutely nothing he’s done to actually merit the sympathy of people who ostensibly stand against him and everything he represents. If you truly believe he’s a racist, fascist, ghoulish “deplorable” then there’s no reason whatsoever to make a public display of wanting him to feel better, either. Be careful what you wish for — you might just get it.