Should You Wish a Fascist Well?
When news broke that Donald Trump was infected with Covid-19, a schism among his detractors appeared on social media almost immediately. On one side, people wished him a speedy recovery, sometimes begrudgingly, while declaring they were going to “vote him out” in November. On the other side, there was no empathy: Some expressed indifference at the president’s illness, and some outright cheered for Comrade Corona. It was, as someone on my Twitter timeline pointed out, the exact opposite of a prayer circle. A debate began to rage over the question: Should you wish a fascist well?
Norms — that’s what this argument is really about. Should the norm of wishing an ill person a full recovery extend to a fascist? Is applying these norms to everyone — as Michelle Obama would say, “going high” — morally superior and better for society? This isn’t merely a moral or philosophical difference. This is also about real-world consequences. That’s why one side’s emphasis on voting as a solution — and, by extension, their belief that norms will hold under fascism — is so important.
Anyone who genuinely believes the Trump regime is a fascist project understands voting alone won’t stop it. Americans should vote Trump out in a landslide. The record of a clear electoral defeat is necessary, but history demonstrates that, by itself, a clear mandate from voters likely won’t be enough to clear fascists out of power. This is why it’s a mistake to wish Trump well, while relying on norms governing the transfer of power to defeat him.
Trump and Republicans showed hubris in the face of a force of nature that cannot be gaslit, bullied, or emotionally manipulated.
The smug “get well so we can vote you out” sentiments miss the bleak reality that Trump is accruing power so he may never have to leave office, no matter the election outcome. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death cleared a path for Republicans to create a Supreme Court majority that would very likely rubber-stamp a contested election in Trump’s favor. Right up until the positive Covid-19 tests started coming thick and fast, Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court seemed unstoppable. But now Republicans may no longer have a quorum in the Senate, because the Rose Garden ceremony they held for Barrett may have been a superspreader event. Senate floor activity is postponed until October 19, because some of its members have contracted the virus.
A plague was the check and balance, not the rule of law, not civility. Trump and Republicans showed hubris in the face of a force of nature that cannot be gaslit, bullied, or emotionally manipulated. A virus demands you engage with it truthfully. You can’t bluster your way out of infection. Trump’s lies and arrogance regarding Covid-19 have cost 210,000 Americans their lives. Those lies and arrogance have finally caught up with him, and he may pay a heavy price. Some people think that’s poetic justice. They are being rebuked by those who think you should never be that callous, not even to a fascist.
Fascists know how to weaponize the norms governing civility to gain and maintain control over others. They know how to exploit sympathy. They know if they pretend to play nice sometimes, people believe they’ll begin to adhere to these norms and stop their harm. It’s a con. It works, though. That’s why four years into the Trump regime, reporters and pundits are still, embarrassingly, talking about his change of tone and his becoming more “presidential” any time he displays the barest modicum of decorum. This dynamic lowers the bar all the way down to Hell. Playing along is always the wrong move.
The well wishes were never for Trump. They are a performance of decency meant only for the person sending them.
Does wishing an ailing fascist good health count as playing along? I think it does. Fascists are obsessed with the perception of power, hence the fixation on crowd sizes and similar metrics. Rallying around them for any reason is never a good idea. You’re padding their stats and creating the impression they have more support and less opposition than they do. Nearly all of Trump’s political opponents who sent him “get well” messages did so knowing he is incapable of receiving their consideration with sincere appreciation or grace. They sent those greetings, uncoerced, to a man they claim is a clear and present danger installed by a hostile foreign government, an immoral kleptocrat, an existential threat. The well wishes were never for Trump. They are a performance of decency meant only for the person sending them. They are a demand to be told the well-wisher is “classy.” They are also a restatement of class allegiance.
Americans should consider why publicly wishing the Dear Leader good health and longevity is compulsory in some authoritarian states. One of the more troubling aspects of the weekend were the hostile assertions from some liberals with large platforms that anyone who didn’t agree with sending Trump good tidings was a poorly raised brute, who was wishing death on him. The message was: You have to be polite. You have to take the high road. You have to suppress your rage about all the violence and harm. You have to show kindness to the person who takes pleasure in abusing you.
Fascists, like all abusers, triumph by delegitimizing the anger against them and making it seem inappropriate, hysterical, or even deranged. It’s how they avoid accountability and punishment. That’s why “going high” plays into their hands — it demands well-earned rage become polite disagreement. Fascists know how to exploit this kind of outpouring of sympathy for Trump, and they will, if given the opportunity.
Wish a fascist well if you want, but consider that they know how to manipulate decency to dampen opposition to them. Consider that conceding after a landslide defeat is another norm fascists may not respect. Consider what you might unwittingly be playing into by performing decency for praise when silence is a freely available option.