Many people all over the world can hardly resist their malice when it comes to his viral illness. But why is that and is such behavior even acceptable? Franz-Josef Bormann from the German Ethics Council provides the answers.
FOCUS Online: Mr. Bormann, after Donald Trump’s corona infection became known, there were glee and malice from many sides. Climate activist Luisa Neubauer wrote on Twitter that “corners of the mouth are twitching worldwide”. Trump will of course get out of there unharmed, because “there shouldn’t be a shortage of disinfectants in the White House.” Are such statements appropriate in such a situation?
Franz-Josef Bormann: In my opinion, this statement undercuts the necessary level that should be adhered to in such a report. As an ironic reflex that arises from an extremely negative attitude towards politics and the person of Donald Trump, such a statement may be explainable, but it does not represent an appropriate reaction to a case of illness.
Trump: Hope to see the US President
How should one look at this issue from the perspective of an ethicist? The fact is that many people cannot identify with the person Trump and his politics and even feel a deep dislike.
Bormann: First of all, it is simply a matter of the fact that someone is sick and deserves the necessary respect as a patient, which we should show every other patient. The particular public function of this person does not matter and malice or malicious glee are not a suitable emotional reaction for me here.
What makes the Trump case so special, however, is its educational component. With his corona policy, the US president often contradicted the recommendations of science, and even played down the pandemic. Therefore, many now have the hope that he will gain a different attitude to Corona through his own illness. According to the motto: “Hopefully, damage will make you wise”. I consider this motive to be morally justifiable and understandable, but it has nothing to do with pure malicious pleasure – that is, the joy of a person’s suffering.
Am I a bad person when I am happy about Trump’s illness?
So am I a bad person when I am happy about Donald Trump’s corona disease?
Bormann: No, it is only a – albeit problematic – reaction to an individual case and from this one would never make a general judgment about the character of a person as a whole. Nevertheless, everyone should question the motive of their emotions.
If I wish Donald Trump dead, then from an ethical point of view, that definitely crosses a line. However, if I hope for a healing shock from the US President, that is something different. The respective motivation of the individual affective impulses is therefore decisive for the moral judgment.
Are there people for whom schadenfreude is allowed? For example, Chancellor Merkel congratulated the US government on the murder of Osama bin Laden.
Bormann: In the case of Osama bin Laden’s execution, too, I would be surprised if someone felt some personal glee. I think Merkel’s statement was primarily about demonstrating the strategic alliance with an ally and less about malicious pleasure.
Not only is there malicious joy, but also a humorous handling of the situation would be possible. There is no doubt that the development has a certain irony. Can you approach the topic of Trump and Corona with a joke?
Bormann: People who are in the spotlight also have to endure being targeted by jokes. That belongs to a free media landscape.
That’s why I would never forbid a cartoonist, for example, to joke about Trump’s corona infection. This is a hit for this profession. But this is not necessarily a question of malice or malicious glee, so from a moral point of view I see no problem.