Examining Public Reactions to Trump’s COVID Status
By Martyn McGrath
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 11 of VARSITY News.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s recent claim to testing positive for COVID-19, much of the responses expressed on social media platforms reflected an indifference to the possiblity of his death. This leads to a pertinent question that cuts to the heart of humanity itself, and the measuring of human worth. Is it immoral to show indifference, or even joy, towards the potential death of someone whose policies and actions are immoral and irreverent? Society has been forced to confront this question since Trump’s alleged results were publicised. It seems to me that to wish death upon someone because you disagree with their politics or their rhetoric is morally reprehensible.
I do not support Trump – I am repulsed by his politics, his rhetoric and his actions. This piece is not in support of him. Instead, I am in support of an ideal that affects how we – as humans – deal with the question of human value. For over two centuries, South Africa was governed by dispensations that did not believe in an inherent dignity or worth in humans. When the new constitution was drafted during the transition of power and the early stages of the constitutional dispensation, it was drafted with inherent human dignity and value at its heart. Section 9 ensured that “Everyone has inherent dignity”. This isn’t a qualified right. No matter who you are – or what you’ve done – by virtue of being a human being, you have value and dignity. The formulators of the Constitution understood the danger of denying the inherent value of human beings better than anyone.
Donald Trump, unfortunately, does not understand this danger – either that, or he is aware of it, and he embraces it regardless. Either way, we have every right to be morally outraged by his approach to the office he holds. However, his attitude towards human life and its value (be it his response to Black Lives Matter, his xenophobic border policies or his rhetoric about women) should be a cautionary tale to us about the deadly effects of such an attitude – especially when espoused by someone in a position of power and influence. When we see a type of behaviour that repulses us, it is disingenuous to mirror this behaviour – even in a small and seemingly insignificant manner. To celebrate the potential that Donald Trump will die due to the COVID-19 virus displays a menacing lack of respect for the inherent value of humanity. This attitude is infectious, and to allow our value for a human life to be depleted in one area, opens the door to excusing atrocities – even if they are being committed against ‘those people’ or ‘that person’ who has done or said something so egregious that they fall into the category of people we define as being devoid of moral standing.
Regardless of whether you think Trump deserves death or not, to celebrate his alleged potential of his death displays a deep disconnect with the value of life and the gravity of its loss. If human value is conditional, then who decides where the line is? Who decides when that line is crossed, and who is the arbiter of who is valuable and who is not? It is a dangerous and anarchistic precedent to set – and it should concern us that this reaction is so widespread and normalised.
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