BY THE DOLLY MAMA | Schadenfreude means gladness at the misery of others. It is a little like second-degree murder in the way it unintentionally but intentionally does wrong things. It never has our full consent, but we do it anyway.
Donald Trump’s COVID diagnosis has thrown a lot of people into a tizzy. It feels wrong to be glad and yet many are. Why are they glad? Because he does a lot of harm. My daughter-in-law lost her beloved aunt to COVID. When she broke down in her tears, she accused the president of murdering her aunt. She might be right. Second degree is still murder.
The president’s refusal to disavow his clear belief in the supremacy of white people in the recent debate has caused a lot more people to believe that he is an active, practicing racist. Many of us thought so before the debate. Our evidence was his dog-whistling behavior, his statement about “good people” in Virginia and his active and ongoing alliance with the police against the people who have been harmed by law dis-enforcing “mistakes.”
On both of the major issues of the day, the national reckoning on race and the COVID virus, the president has been consequentially wrong. His refusal to wear a mask has likely had the direct effect of causing more people to die. His refusal to support accountability on police violence against people of color has encouraged more violence against people of color.
There are sins of omission and sins of commission, as St. Paul says: “The good that I would do, I do not and the evil that I would not do, I do.” The president doesn’t do good and he does do evil. He might be as mixed up as the rest of us on our intentions. But his intentions finally exclude good and include evil.
I used the word “they” when I spoke of people being glad. I am not glad. I am deeply sad and more scared than I can imagine being. Who will lead us toward goodness? How will we get out of the virus, individually and collectively? The damage, unstopped by sins of omission, will only escalate, to the economy, the unemployed, the homeless, the already sick.
How will trust in democracy be restored if someone doesn’t take leadership on the matter? How will we come together if leadership continues to whistle us apart? How will the election happen if we are dealing with an ill president?
The damage his leadership has already caused includes “unintentional” murder and permission for violence. Who is going to clean up the mess? Especially if the good that we would do cannot be done due to utter chaos and exhaustion.
Every week we lose on reversing the degradation and desacralization of our environment costs the earth and therefore also us. Who will have the capacity to care about what we should have been doing all these months, while we have been distracted by leadership embarrassments and a strong and tricky virus?
I may not find it ethical to hate the president enough to wish him misery. That doesn’t mean I want him around to continue to do damage to others.
My daughter was the one who woke me up this morning early to tell me the president was sick. At 35, she runs an organization that helps people from being evicted under the circumstance of COVID. She was giddy with joy. She is a person of deep faith and commitment. She is a practicing Jew. I was appalled. She said, “If Hitler had been stopped early enough, lots of Jews would still have grandparents.”
Is Trump Hitler? No, not yet. He hasn’t actively taken people to gas chambers. Is Trump sinful? Mightily and consequentially. Is the issue Trump? No, it is not. It has never been Trump. It has been the authoritarian stripe down the middle of the American public’s heart, the one that loves to have an enemy — whether an immigrant or an African-American or a gay person or a Muslim or a socialist — and wants a strong man to govern them because they know they can’t govern themselves without hating something. Forgive the cheap psychology but all that says to me is that the “rigids” hate themselves extensively and know they are worthless. They act worthless and are incapable of self-governance.
My daughter is a lesbian and a socialist. Why would a president be so derisive toward socialists? Is it bad to be a socialist? Is it bad to be a person of color? Does he really think bad people don’t belong in the United States?
I refuse to accept the bait to demonize Trump, who is the chief demonizer. I follow Jesus, who refused to have an enemy. I follow him imperfectly with as much of my heart as I can summon.
Jesus also refused to befriend people who do harm intentionally. He challenged them with as much love as he could muster, all borrowed from the large grace of God.
I pray for the capacity to love people whose internalized shame and open schadenfreude causes them to do damage to others. I pray for a great reckoning and opening of the heart. I know I don’t have the energy. I do know that God’s grace does.
The Dolly Mama is the pen name in The Village Sun of Reverend Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Memorial Church, on Washington Square South.