Rachel Maddow thinks we need to show compassion for the compassionless Donald Trump during his health crisis. I'm gonna pass.

On her show Friday, Maddow lectured those of us who think Trump “had it coming," like the lousy husbands of the six merry murderesses. Of course, Trump didn't just pop his gum annoyingly. He actually ran into COVID-19's knife ten times. Yet, Maddow compared Trump's illness, which is the result of his own ego-driven stupidity, to your friend who gets lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking.

MADDOW: [Your friend] never even tried to quit, despite knowing the risks of lung cancer from smoking. And then that person who you know got lung cancer. How do you react to that? ... Your instinct might be to blame them. Go right ahead, enjoy that Schadenfreude.

First place, Trump isn't my friend. He's my mortal enemy, because powerful white supremacists like to test the limits of my mortality. Also, Trump wasn't hooked as a child on not wearing facial coverings or refusing to social distance. Those were his grown-ass adult choices. You don't suffer debilitating withdrawal symptoms — tingling in the hands and feet, headaches, nausea — because you wear a mask in public.

Trump also isn't some innocent victim, like the 2,500 children each day who try their first cigarette (400 of whom go on to become regular smokers). If Maddow watched her own show for the past few months, she'd know that Trump is more like the CEOS of tobacco companies who lied about the risks from smoking for his own personal profits. Alan Shore on "Boston Legal" called tobacco companies “cockroaches" for a reason.


I almost feel sorry for the president's supporters who he's actively convinced to ignore science and the most basic public health guidelines, but Donald Fucking Trump? Never. You can't make me. What I felt when I learned he tested positive for COVID-19 isn't schadenfreude. It's straight from the New Testament: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction."

Trump's condition is also the twist ending of roughly 95 percent of all "Twilight Zone" episodes, which were all about bad people receiving their comeuppance. Rod Serling didn't want us to walk away thinking, "Gee, that deranged astronaut was going to have so much fun tormenting the tiny civilization he discovered. Shame even bigger astronauts came along and killed him" or “that Nazi just wanted to return to his old concentration camp and relive the good old days. Shame that the ghosts of the people he murdered drove him insane instead."

The feeling of “schadenfreude" is based in either aggression, rivalry, or justice. Donald Trump isn't merely your successful, seemingly perfect neighbor, and a sick part of you enjoys seeing him suffer a small setback. Donald Trump isn't even a popular celebrity who just lost her child, and her personal tragedy thrills you for some reason because you're oh-so “pro-life." Donald Trump is a monster with no redeeming qualities, and he's not an annoying relative you can choose to avoid at holiday gatherings. He's clothed in immense power, which he wields with abusive glee on the vulnerable and marginalized. He's made the country, if not the entire world, a worse place than where he found it.

Even while stricken, Trump remains true to form, which is grotesque. He prioritized his reelection, as always, over the health and safety of others. He attended an indoor fundraiser in New Jersey when the White House knew he'd been exposed to the virus. Saturday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley suggested Trump might've tested positive on Wednesday, so instead of immediately entering quarantine, he tried to hide it, endangering the lives of everyone he encountered.

Maddow's smoker analogy falls flat because I'd hope your friend with lung cancer isn't also your abuser and tormentor. Trump is, and there's nothing wrong with feeling possible relief that he can't hurt us anymore, either as the result of an election, whose integrity he's undermining, or even natural causes. I'm not wishing for his death. However, I will point out that Cuban refugees and their families celebrated in Miami when Fidel Castro died. Given what we've endured this year — more than 200,000 Americans dead, federal troops sent to “dominate" protesters, the blatant racial scapegoating of minorities — I'm no longer willing to entertain all the supposed reasons Trump is different from brutal despots abroad.

When a vicious criminal is convicted and sentenced to prison, their victim's family feels a schadenfreude rooted in justice. It's not unhealthy. It's what helps them heal. It's the justice denied Breonna Taylor's family and will likely be denied Trump's victims. I'm skeptical that he'll see a day in prison. What he's experiencing now — the discomfort, the fear — is the closest Trump will come to accountability for his evil. And the “schadenfreude" Maddow finds so distasteful is the closest most of us will come to closure from the past four years.

In the "Twilight Zone" episode “Deaths-Head Revisited," a former Nazi is put on trial by the ghosts of his former victims. He's told the punishment he's about to receive isn't “hatred."

This is retribution. This is not revenge. This is justice. But this is only the beginning, Captain. Only the beginning. Your final judgment will come from God.

I'm sorry, Ms. Maddow, but "Sympathy for the Devil" is only a song. It doesn't apply here.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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