I was on vacation last week, taking a long driving tour to see some of the natural beauty of Texas. I had planned to write about one or two of my stops, and then I woke up Friday morning to see all of social media excited: Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19.
The vast majority of my friends – both on the internet and in real life – are not Donald Trump fans. I’ve seen reactions ranging from glee to skepticism to scolding others for their schadenfreude.
I’m not going to tell you how to feel. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I think about this situation, and what it means for us going forward.
1. Karma doesn’t work that way
There is a certain feeling of justice in seeing a President who has downplayed the seriousness of this pandemic at every turn – resulting in far more deaths than otherwise would have occurred – catching the disease. I’ve seen memes saying “Trump caught karma.”
Karma is a concept from the Dharmic religions. At a high level, it’s about cause and effect over multiple lifetimes. When most Westerners say “karma” they mean something along the lines of a cosmic scorekeeper, an idea much more aligned with Calvinism than with Buddhism or Hinduism. As a Pagan and a polytheist, I do not believe there is a cosmic scorekeeper.
Karma is far more complicated and nuanced than “Trump’s getting what he deserves.”
2. The sum of our decisions looks a lot like destiny
At the same time, actions have consequences. Touch a hot stove and you burn your hand. That’s not retribution or punishment, it’s plain ordinary cause and effect.
Not every action has such clear and immediate consequences. The choices you make today influence the opportunities you have – or don’t have – tomorrow. Make enough choices – including choosing not to choose and including choices you don’t recognize as choices at the time – and eventually you find yourself on a path that looks like destiny, even though it is simply the cumulative consequences of your free will.
Trump has tried to live as though there isn’t a pandemic. And through his example, he’s encouraged others to do the same. It wasn’t inevitable that he would get Covid, but it was highly likely. The sum of his decisions – both personally and as President – brought him to the point where he was close to an infected person without proper protection.
Close enough to get infected.
3. Life is about playing the odds
I’m so sick of the “masks don’t work” and “if you’re wearing a mask what are you afraid of?” comments from the Covid deniers. Like so much in life, dealing with Covid isn’t a question of “safe” or “unsafe.” Rather, it’s a question of greater or lesser risk.
If you stick your hand in a pit of venomous snakes, maybe you won’t get bitten. And if you do get bitten, maybe you won’t get any venom (25% of venomous snake bites are “dry bites”). If you are injected with venom, maybe it won’t be enough to kill you. Sticking your hand in a pit of venomous snakes is a problematic event.
But do it often enough and sooner or later the odds will catch up with you.
All of us have taken some risk during this pandemic, because true isolation isn’t possible. We’ve done what we can do to reduce our risk, understanding that it’s never zero. I took extra risk going on vacation. But driving instead of flying, doing mainly outdoor activities, and staying away from crowded places means the additional risk was small. Not zero, but small enough I was willing to do it.
Donald Trump stuck his hand in a snake pit every day. And he finally got bitten.
4. Being sick makes him look weak to his base
I’m seeing a few people saying Trump is faking this so he doesn’t have to do any more debates. He’s such a chronic liar that’s possible, but I think it’s highly unlikely.
Trump wouldn’t fake being sick for the same reason he mostly refuses to wear a mask: he thinks it makes him look weak. His biggest supporters voted for him because he’s a strongman, a patriarch – someone who will protect them from Muslims and immigrants and liberals (oh my!).
Of course, Trump is not strong. He’s a con man, as was confirmed when we finally got a bit of information on the tax returns he’s refused to disclose. But the main part of his con is convincing other people he’s rich and strong. He would not willingly do anything to break that illusion.
But Covid is immune to his con games.
5. Finally, an adult in the room
I would bet a substantial amount of money that when he got the test results, Trump’s first reaction was to keep it quiet.
But someone explained that while his staff may be loyal to him, most of them aren’t willing to die for him. And keeping something like this secret is very difficult. Someone – I have no idea who – convinced him he’s better off admitting it up front rather trying to manage a coverup.
6. You feel what you feel
I freely admit to a certain smug satisfaction when I got the news. This man has mocked the sick, injured, and weak for years. His policies on refugees are designed to be cruel. He has lied about Covid from the beginning, resulting in thousands of needless deaths.
I’ve seen a few people scolding others for their satisfaction. This scolding is unwarranted. If you are a “love and light” person who wishes only the best for everyone no matter how evil they are, so be it. I am not.
While I’m all for restorative justice, that requires the offender to understand and accept that their actions were harmful to others and therefore wrong. Trump will never admit he did anything wrong, about anything. Where restorative justice is impossible, retributive justice is appropriate.
It’s not wrong to be happy that justice is being done, however haphazardly it may be.
7. He’s not out of office yet
Whatever you feel, let’s all remember that he’s still President and still a candidate for President, with odds of winning that aren’t good but aren’t that much worse than his odds in 2016.
If he makes a full recovery – especially if he makes a quick recovery – this will just raise his standing in the eyes of his worshippers. Though I hope his Evangelical supporters will read Revelation 13:3…
How things look on November 3 may be very different from how they look on October 3.
8. Do not expect him to suddenly learn compassion
If you’re thinking that almost dying of Covid will make Trump compassionate toward those who have this disease or who are otherwise in need, you haven’t been paying attention for the past four years.
This isn’t Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch. Covid isn’t going to make his heart grow three sizes bigger. Donald Trump is utterly void of compassion. He is irredeemable – he’s incapable of thinking of anyone other than himself.
If he recovers, expect him to come out bragging about how Covid killed “lesser” people but he was strong enough to beat it.
And his base will eat it up.
9. Expect a full recovery
Trump is 74 years old and badly overweight. He is at much higher risk – there’s that word again – from Covid than most people. As I write this on Saturday afternoon, the word is that Trump “is not yet on a clear path to recovery.”
Still, he has the best medical care in the world (that he gets at public expense, something he wants to deny to ordinary people) and every possible effort will be made to keep him alive. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a very serious case early in the pandemic and recovered, though Johnson is 18 years younger than Trump.
We cannot expect Covid to remove Trump from office. We have to do that, by voting him out.
10. If he dies, we get Pence
Obviously, if Trump dies in office Vice President Mike Pence becomes President. There is neither law nor precedent for what should happen if a major party’s nominee dies before becoming President-elect. That would be more chaos in this very chaotic year.
The Republicans could, in theory, select another nominee. But at this late date – ballots have already been printed and many have been cast – I can’t see them doing anything other than going with Pence.
Mike Pence isn’t the crude on-going embarrassment that Trump is. But his governing policies would be virtually identical. And while Pence doesn’t have the cult of personality Trump has, don’t discount the sympathy vote.
11. We still need to vote him out of office!
The Biden campaign has suspended its attack ads. That’s the decent thing to do.
It’s also a mistake – does anyone believe Trump would do the same thing if the situation was reversed? Remember when Hillary got pneumonia and Trump used that to argue she didn’t have the stamina to be President?
If you’re not registered to vote, you’re running out of time. Different states have different requirements (and some allow for same-day registration) but Monday is the last day to register in Texas.
Vote! If you can vote in person, do. If you can vote early, do. The less chance of something going wrong, the better chance your ballot will be counted. But however you vote, vote.
Remember the down-ballot elections. Senators and representatives, governors and state legislators, local offices – study the ballot and vote for good, competent, compassionate, progressive candidates where ever they’re running.
This isn’t over until it’s really and truly over. If Trump having Covid causes us to let up, we could get stuck with him for another four years.