No one should state that someone deserves to contract a disease, especially something like coronavirus. But that’s actually being posted on social media following President Donald Trump’s early Friday morning tweet that he and his wife tested positive for the disease.
Before Trump contracted the virus – even before he was president – our nation’s politics had been politically splintered for decades. In fact, it has been nearly a dozen years since Congress’ approval ratings have been anywhere near 30%. This is largely due to hyper-partisanship.
It’s no secret that Washington has been a political dystopia and yet I worked as a congressional aide for both parties. So I should be able to offer how our national government should successfully operate. But national politics has so turned me off that I rarely teach or write about it (at least I get to teach and study state and local government, even if few pay attention to Connecticut’s politics).
Our national politics have remained divisive and there’s little doubt that Trump accentuated our hyper-partisanship era as he ran and won the presidency based on our fractious political environment. In fact, we must remember that Trump is a byproduct of our dysfunctional national politics. He has also been at the center of America’s pandemic and he arguably did little to address coronavirus. Various scientific and public health agencies have been caught in the middle of Trump’s conflicting tactics.
Many Americans directly blame the president for the public health crisis that we are in. And now with Trump contracting coronavirus, many are hoping the worst for our president. The spiteful comments on social media in respecting a situation like this one are tasteless and unfortunate, but they’re a sign of our political dystopia.
Internationally, some political leaders and media outlets have also posted negative comments about the president being a victim to the virus. As a Chinese newspaper editor offered, “President Trump and the first lady have paid the price for his gamble to play down the COVID-19.”
Now social media platforms – like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok – have announced that any posts referencing Trump and “death” would violate their rules and such comments would be removed. Interestingly, the Communications Decency Act allows these companies to set guidelines for what can be posted.
But should it take social media platforms and federal laws to prevent such outlandish posts? Have we hit rock bottom to post and wish that someone would contract a disease and die? This is, after all, our president of the United States.
As Americans, we should remind ourselves that we elect national leaders like our president and we are the ones to blame for supporting candidates that allow for hyper-partisanship. This is especially important since a larger number of voting-age adults are engaging in politics. Generation Z will not only be voting more but also they have been and will be running for office. We need to be mindful of our tone about politics to a new generation of voters especially during an economic crisis and pandemic. Wishing our president death is not it.
We should also allow this to be a learning moment that directly impacts the president, his family, his inner circle, and the White House. Trump may heed this as an opportunity to be more proactive about the pandemic. Maybe he will work more directly with Congress to address various public health initiatives and propose laws dealing with coronavirus. In other words, beyond blaming and attacking Trump, this should be a teachable moment for the president and for us to be united and not remain so bitterly divided that we wish our national leaders would die.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is associate professor of political science and urban affairs and the School of Graduate and Professional Studies Interim Associate Dean at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He is also a frequent guest on WNPR’s Wheelhouse radio show.
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