What is the moral response to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis? | COMMENTARY

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday in Washington, D.C.

“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Galatians 6:7


I received the news that President Donald Trump and his wife had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in a text from a family member. It came with 31 laughing emoji, the kind with tears squeezing out of both eyes.

“It is what it is,” I texted back. This, of course, was an echo of Mr. Trump’s icy response in August when an interviewer reminded him of the disease’s awful death toll on his watch. Twitter was an even more interesting place than usual after the news broke. Comedian J-L Cauvin issued a video mocking the diagnosis. “Nobody’s ever tested more strongly for COVID,” he said in Mr. Trump’s voice. A woman who tweets as The Volatile Mermaid noted that, “Trump never would’ve gotten COVID if he hadn’t been tested for it.” Bette Midler tweeted, “Looks like RBG argued her first case before God, successfully.”


Indeed, enough people were having enough fun at the expense of a 74-year-old man with a life-threatening disease that CNN contributor Bakari Sellers felt compelled to issue a friendly warning: “Don’t get fired for your takes on Twitter today …” One of my followers, who tweets as Rabbi_Beth_Schwartz, went further: “We should not be joyful about the suffering of another human being, even if s/he is an adversary.”

In different ways, all these responses raise a question I don’t recall being addressed in Philosophy 101. What is the moral response when bad things happen to bad people?

That Mr. Trump is a bad person can hardly be debated. By whatever metric one measures humanity — decency, empathy, compassion, intelligence, charity, leadership — he is one of the more defective individuals this country has ever produced. The man mocked a reporter for having a disability. He mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton for having pneumonia. He mocked Ali Velshi of MSNBC for being hurt covering a protest. And he told us over and over again that COVID-19 was no big deal, even though he knew better.

We’ve got it under control, he said. Probably be gone with the warm weather, he said. One day like a miracle, he said. Now, like 7.3 million Americans, 208,000 of whom have died, has the disease.

Seldom in human history has any man been so deservedly hoisted by his own petard. Seldom has justice seemed more poetic. And seldom, it must be said, has a plot development been less surprising. I mean, who didn’t see this coming?

As a matter of policy, I try not to gloat over the illness or death of people with whom I disagree or even people, like Mr. Trump, whom I hold in profound contempt. I made an exception in this space for Osama bin Laden, but that’s about it. And no, I won’t be making another exception here.

In the first place, as loathsome a human being as he is, Donald Trump is someone’s father. In the second place, and more important, finding happiness in his illness feels wrong, feels un-Christian, feels like sticking out your chin and daring God to take a poke. After all, the admonition quoted at the top of this column is a sword that cuts both ways. So I hope Mr. Trump and his wife get well. I’ll even pray for it.

But with that said, we are, all of us, only human. And it is asking too much to require those of us who have spent four years watching in impotent fury as this man got away with murder not to feel a certain grim satisfaction at seeing karma make its belated arrival. If this diagnosis forces us to walk a moral tightrope, well, I’m fine with that.


I feel no joy that Donald Trump is suffering. But I feel no sorrow, either.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via email at