The world is split about U.S President Donald Trump contracting the virus. His supporters are reeling from it while anti-trump supporters are of the view that Trump probably ‘deserved’ to get the virus. People on social media have taken digs at the President about his callous attitude about coronavirus and have poked fun at his ludicrous treatment methods for COVID-19, however, some have gone as far as saying they hope he dies from COVID. Most of the tweets are deleted now, but the South China Morning Post published a collection of some of the meanest tweets addressed to Trump.
“There’s a bottle of champagne in the fridge and it’s getting opened right now.”
“For once, I’m rooting for the virus.”
“I’m worried that this might interfere with my dream of seeing him die in prison.”
“I hope he suffers through this and dies as he’s losing on election night.”
Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have issued notices barring any kind of death wishes for the President. According to Vice, Twitter users aren’t allowed to express their hope for Trump’s death on the platform and the tweets that do so “will have to be removed” and that they may have their accounts put into a “read-only” mode.
“Content that wishes, hopes or expresses a desire for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against an individual is against our rules,” Twitter said in a statement.
Many political activists have pointed out Twitter’s double standards when it comes to protecting marginalized communities from death threats to when it concerns a powerful figure such as the President.
Facebook has a slightly different take on the ‘hope you die’ comments. It says that it "distinguish[es] between public figures and private individuals because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news or who have a large public audience. For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment."
In other words, you can wish Trump's death on Facebook as long as you don’t tag him in the post or "purposefully expose" him to "calls for death, serious disease, epidemic disease, or disability."
But if it is just a thought, is it still bad to hope he dies from COVID?
You’re not planning to act on it but you just had a thought and wanted to express it on your Twitter as you do for every other passing thought. People may perceive this action differently based on their moral values. A consequentialist, who believes people aren’t good or bad, only their actions are, would think there is nothing wrong with having bad thoughts as you’re not acting upon it.
However, the current situation doesn’t merely involve having a thought, people are expressing it on public platforms. This could lead to bad consequences as it might create greater political division or encourage people to freely wish death upon others online. So, for a consequentialist, you can be labeled as a bad person if the consequences of your expression lead to chaos or hate.
However, this school of thought isn’t a perfect measurement of morality as a person could make a mistake leading to terrible consequences but still be a good person or a manipulative person could help others but do it purely for selfish reasons only. Most people would not call the manipulative person as a nice person.
Moreover, a majority of us are not consequentialists. For us, failing to feel empathy and sadism are considered to be traits of a bad person while feelings of love and acceptance are considered the qualities of a pleasant person.
But what if I wish death upon someone who is ‘a bad person’ according to their actions?
Wishing a historical figure such as Hitler to die or hoping a serial rapist gets a death sentence is a widely accepted idea all over the world. Some people’s intentions and actions have caused so much pain and suffering that death seems like a fitting punishment. But Trump isn’t viewed as a psychopath or monster, he hasn’t murdered people or caused a genocide so it’s harder to justify wishing death upon him.
A common justification for hoping for Trump’s suffering is the belief - “he deserved it” or that “this is karma”. They blame him for mishandling the pandemic and for not taking the deaths of the 200k COVID infected Americans seriously. Hence, they believe, he deserves to go through the same ordeal as the COVID-infected people did.
However, Dr. Cressida Gaukroger, a Departmental Lecturer in Ethics at Oxford University, in an article, argues that this thought-process goes against most liberal ideologies which usually place emphasis on rehabilitation over punishment and retribution.
People who would otherwise advocate for reformation centers for prisoners seem to be unforgiving of Trump. But chances are, their wishes for his death don’t transcend beyond their minds, which means, they don’t actually want to witness it.
You probably wouldn’t enjoy watching them suffer
Most people that subtly hope Trump dies from COVID do not have a personal vendetta against him but are unhappy with the way he handled the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. They’re expressing their anger by carelessly tweeting a death wish for a 74-year-old man but wouldn’t celebrate if he actually did die.
Gaukroger writes on ABC, “I suspect that many of the people who say they would like Trump to suffer if faced with seeing him struggle for breath or choke on a ventilator, wouldn’t actually enjoy it. They would, I believe, in the end, feel compassion when faced with what it means to experience the full force of this horrible illness.”
Even if you don’t hope he actually dies from COVID but you still have thoughts about him suffering so that he loses the election, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s not as if your thought will gravely affect the President’s condition in any way.
But expressing it will have consequences, presumably bad ones. We’re all aware that dying of coronavirus is neither easy nor painless and as Gaukroger mentioned watching an old man die is disturbing no matter what.
Moreover, from a political perspective, the Democrats have more to lose than to gain if Trump dies as the presidency would be transferred to vice president Mike Pence and the democrat candidate Joe Biden would have no chance at winning.