Democrats’ Tricky Ethical Issue: Is It Okay to Hope Trump Fails?

Ethics is about doing the right thing. It’s primarily about actions, about how we behave when we interact with others. But it also involves how we think about others. Having racist thoughts, for example—believing someone else is inferior just because of skin color—is clearly unethical. That’s because such thoughts end up influencing our behavior, whether we realize it or not, and because they likely make us more tolerant when others act with prejudice.

But what about hopes, especially when politics is involved? Can a hope be unethical?  If you’re a Democrat or Independent who pines for President Trump’s defeat, is it okay to hope that he’ll fail in dealing with the coronavirus, the economy, or anything else because you know that will hurt his re-election prospects?

That kind of question has always been in play, but the Covid-19 crisis raises the stakes considerably. As red states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas reopen their economies, Republicans and Democrats disagree in almost every poll. Republicans are far more likely to support a relaxation of restrictions, usually arguing that the economic damage is just as bad or worse than the health risks. Democrats tend to be more cautious about reopening, fearing a spike in deaths that would outweigh the harm from a deep economic recession. The divide has the awful effect of building on pre-existing polarization to turn the pandemic into a blue vs. red phenomenon.

This creates a huge ethical hazard for those Democrats who oppose Trump’s push to reopen the economy quickly. It’s obvious that the country will be better off if Democratic fears of moving too fast prove wrong, if the virus doesn’t roar back, and if the early reopening brings an early end to the recession. But it’s only natural to want to be proven right, especially when a quick end to the pandemic and its effects will have the secondary effect of improving Republican chances in the election, which Democrats have every right to oppose.

So what are ethical Democrats supposed to hope for when they don’t want to see a Covid-19 spike in deaths but also don’t want to see Republicans reap the election reward of being right?

This kind of quandary is not new. Many Democrats still believe Republicans limited the 2009 stimulus because they didn’t want to see the economy come roaring back, and few Republicans objected when Rush Limbaugh went further and said he wanted Obama to fail. Then-Vice President Joe Biden told author Michael Grunwald that several Republican lawmakers had told him, “We can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back.” And that was when the nation was falling off the last fiscal cliff at the start of the Great Recession.

But now the ethical shoe is potentially on the other foot and no one is talking about it, at least not out loud.  So I ask again, what can Democrats ethically hope for?  I suppose they can try to thread the needle—hope that the pandemic will end soon and the economy will recover, but that voters will still blame Trump for his handling of the crisis in the beginning. And I suppose you can argue that it doesn’t matter what anyone secretly hopes for; after all, hoping won’t have any effect on what actually happens. But I wonder if it’s a little like those racist thoughts we began with. Does hoping for failure spill over into actions that matter? I don’t know and I’d be interested in your thoughts, either in the comment section below, on Facebook, or in an email to me at mark@markwillen.com.    

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5 thoughts on “Democrats’ Tricky Ethical Issue: Is It Okay to Hope Trump Fails?

  1. I think there is one sane hope and it is surely ethical: i.e. hope that voters in all categories recognize what Trump has wrought in the face of this pandemic. No need to worry about the future, but simply hope that voters hold him accountable for the spring of 2020.

  2. I’m just hoping that he doesn’t get re-elected. I wouldn’t feel right hoping that more people get sick because we re-opened too soon, although I think it will happen. In any case, just hoping for it won’t make it happen- unless people purposely take actions that are likely to lead to more infections.
    I have felt from the beginning that there are two silver linings to the pandemic. One is the greater likelihood that he won’t be re-elected, the other is that it has reduced carbon emissions, which will slow global warming.

  3. Mark, I think you’re right; hope doesn’t matter in this case. The right ethical view is that we whip this thing biologically and economically as fast as possible. If we do, Trump gets the credit. If we don’t, Trump gets the blame. I’m fine with either outcome.

    Democrats continue to focus on things outside their control (Trump) which doesn’t help their cause. If they want to win in November, they need to work on making Joe Biden as likeable to as many on the left as possible and as palatable to as many in the middle as possible. I don’t have a crystal ball but it seems like a tall task.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  4. Even if things get better and I hope they do, there is still the issue of almost 100,000 deaths partially because Trump refused to acknowledge the danger. Reason alone not to vote for him. While I am struggling with/against hoping for more illness in places that are opening, I try to remind myself of the bigger picture as opposed to the political picture. It is a wonder and a pity that we could not come together in this terrible time of crisis and moved further apart.

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