Friday’s news of President Trump’s positive COVID diagnosis caused a massive stir online, particularly on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter. After consistently denouncing and playing down the threat of COVID-19, it seemed like the president was finally getting a taste of his own medicine. On Twitter, many liberal individuals posted tweets that implied or directly stated that they would be happy if he died. In response, the right wing took to calling these individuals cruel and demanding their empathy.
This demand for empathy ignores the context within which these individuals make these statements. Throughout the four years of his presidency, we have witnessed Trump’s callousness time and time again. Particularly through his mishandling of the global pandemic, in propagating false information and refusing to listen to leading experts, his leadership has only contributed to the high number of American cases. In comparison to other countries around the world, America’s handling of the virus has been abysmal, and the numbers provide evidence of this. This continual mishandling of the pandemic even while surrounded by experts demonstrates the complete disregard for the more than 200,000 lives lost to COVID. For regular Americans who cannot afford luxurious presidential treatment, COVID is not only a deadly disease but also an immense economic blow. To expect people who have lost their loved ones to a virus continuously downplayed by their president to express empathy for this individual is downright insensitive, particularly when he does not extend the same degree of grace. Personally, I do not wish death on the president, but I have no reason to feel empathetic.
To me, it seems as though people want to pick and choose who is deserving of empathy. Many of those who would demand empathy on Trump’s behalf still refuse to show empathy to people from marginalized groups. When it comes to immigrants and people of color, the empathy that is given to Trump is nowhere to be found. Why is empathy for Trump a demand while empathy for Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality is a debate? It is likely that if presidential candidate Joe Biden had been the one to contract COVID, this degree of grace would not be expected from the right wing. Therefore, there is no reason to expect respectability politics from everyday Americans who suffer the consequences of Trump’s actions.
Empathy is a two-way street. To demand something that you are unprepared to give is highly hypocritical. The president’s supporters can start demanding empathy on his behalf when he begins to show it, not only to victims of COVID but also to marginalized groups.