Early this morning, as news broke about Donald Trump’s Covid diagnosis, Democratic nominee Joe Biden sent precisely the tweet you’d expect Joe Biden to send.
Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 2, 2020
Biden, whose campaign is premised on the reestablishment of normie behaviors, probably had to send thoughts and prayers towards the stricken chief executive. It’s a norm that at times of crisis, Americans put aside political differences. And it’s basic human decency to not kick a guy when he’s down. As the candidate of norms and decency, he had no choice. It’s good politics.
The rest of us, though, do have a choice about how to react. And that choice should involve a healthy dose of outrage.
Allowing himself to come down with Covid was an act of recklessness on Trump’s part that endangered vast numbers of people: Trump’s supporters, his aides, the legions of people who protect and transport and feed and cover him, even Biden himself, who was standing on the same stage as Trump shouted like a madman on Tuesday night. Trump may be able to get NIH on the phone, but it’s very likely that someone he’s been in close proximity to isn’t so lucky. Maybe that person is a midlevel staffer in a White House whose workplace culture treated mask-wearers as sissies. Or maybe it was just someone who had to clean up after those staffers.
At any rate, there’s a not-zero chance that the most protected person in the world may wind up having personally caused the death of someone else.
This appalling sequence only caps a year of recklessness: recklessness that may not have involved personally exposing specific people but did involve embracing policies that likely abetted the virus—and modeling behaviors that surely did so. Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic, his gibberish statements about Covid’s miraculous disappearance, his embrace of various nutty cures, his scheduling of vast rallies thick with folks who’d bought into his disdain for social distancing, his mockery of masks: These are not sordid matters of politics that etiquette demands we put aside in the Trump family’s hour of need. They are what got us to where we are.
Delicatesse has hamstrung so many people who ought to have been protecting our country these past few years. Robert Mueller tied himself in knots lest he appear hostile by allowing new evidence to change his investigation. In fact, it’s important—even necessary—to think about the politics of what happens now. Will Trump have a light case, rebound, and use the experience to further downplay the disease? Will he garner sympathy and ride that to a polling comeback? Or will he be incapacitated by the disease, with all the line-of-succession issues that result? Will someone infected by Trump indeed die? (If he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and infected someone with Covid, would he lose voters?)
If Biden wants to express best wishes for a person who may have put him and his wife in danger, that’s probably good politics. But, behind the scenes, if Team Biden is not looking for every advantage in these various scenarios, they’re derelicting their duty. And if we regular citizens are letting our own there-but-for-the-grace-of-God empathy interrupt our fury, we’re missing the big picture.