“Any mans death diminishes me,” wrote John Donne, “because I am involved in Mankinde.” With that thought, let us all wish Donald Trump a full and speedy recovery from his bout of COVID-19.
We wish him well because, even, or especially, in our hyperpolitical age, some things must be beyond politics. When everything is political, nothing is sacred — starting with human life. It’s a point the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century understood well.
We wish him well because the sudden death of any president is a traumatic national event that will inevitably animate every crackpot in the country. If the term “grassy knoll” still means something in America, just imagine the reaction in the QAnon world if Trump’s condition were to abruptly deteriorate after his stay at Walter Reed.
We wish him well because of Mike Pence.
We wish him well because, even as he tweets “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he could still serve as a living witness to the fact that if you stick a lot of maskless people close together you are likely to spread the virus, as it has to more than a dozen people, and counting, in his circle. Courage, says Aristotle, is the mean between rashness and cowardice. Trump may still be rash, but his followers don’t need to be.
We wish him well because doing otherwise would bring us down to his level — the victory he has always sought; the victory that, among both his fervent loyalists and angriest critics, he has largely gained. The goal of the Trump project is the diminishment of moral expectations and the debasement of public norms. For his enemies to wish him dead would be his ultimate vindication.
We wish him well because the country requires a political referendum, not a literal post-mortem, on this presidency. Trump’s illness is an incident of nature, but his brand of politics is a force in the world of ideas. If he loses reelection (at least if he loses by a wide margin), then right-wing populism loses also, in the U.S. and across the world. If he wins, then those of us who are his opponents will have to take stock of the ways in which we have hurt our own cause. That includes the way in which our personal distaste for the man and our condescension, overt or implicit, to his voters have made us even more distasteful to ordinary Americans than he is.
We wish him well because if, God forbid, the president were to die this month, he would go down undefeated, a martyr to the tens of millions of Americans who’ve treated him as a savior. Trump’s death would guarantee a long life for Trumpism, with his children as its principal beneficiaries.
We wish him well because Trump’s opponents — Democrats and NeverTrumpers alike — need a clean political victory. If Trump survives but is forced to endure a difficult recovery, it could put the hideousness of last week’s debate behind him, mute the criticism of his performance and soften his image in the eyes of wavering voters. The longer he lingers, the better his chances may be, at least politically.
We wish him well because if illness keeps him sidelined and he winds up losing the election, he will surely blame the disease for the loss. This could well be untrue (see above), but it won’t stop his supporters from believing it. Again, Trump the man needs to live — and lose — because it’s the only way the Trump cult might die.
We wish him well because it is too rich for words to see his chronic apologists in the media suddenly become appalled and dismayed by the bad manners of those who have gloated over Trump’s diagnosis. Who are these latter-day Capt. Renaults, “shocked, shocked” to discover the incivilities of American discourse? And where were they, other than cheering from the sidelines or murmuring evasions about the president’s “style,” when it was the president insulting and defaming his critics?
We wish him well because we are better than he is. We are better than the man who mocked Hunter Biden for his substance-abuse issues. We are better than the man who called NeverTrumpers “human scum.” We are better than the man who wants to put his political opponents in jail. We are better than the man who publicly humiliates his own advisers. We are better than the man who demeaned the gold-star parents of a fallen soldier. We are better than the man who pantomimed the physical disabilities of a reporter. We are better than the man who stiffs his suppliers and swindles his “students.” We are better than the man who uses his celebrity to grope. We are better than the man who took a bone-spur draft deferment so that he could live to denigrate the courage of prisoners of war. We are better than the man who race-baited and conspiracy-theorized his way into political relevance.
We wish him well because it’s the right thing to do. It’s more than reason enough.
Bret Stephens is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.