Donald Trump contracting the coronavirus was both improbable and inevitable.
One the one hand, that the world's most powerful person wielding the various apparatus of the world's most powerful nation would be unable to prevent himself from catching COVID-19, a disease that disproportionately affects the powerless, is absurd.
On the other, Trump so enthusiastically buying into his own propaganda about the virus's relative harmlessness that he failed to take even basic safeguards and became infected is almost too on the nose.
I was travelling when the news broke and became as engrossed in Twitter for the duration of my three-hour journey as I would have been if people were talking about my own prognosis. As we entered the final month of the most chaotic US presidential election campaign in history, could COVID-19 incapacitate or kill Donald Trump? How would I feel about such an outcome?
Trump's selfishness and obsession with his own image has been one of the driving factors behind the more than 210,000 American deaths caused by the disease he now has. By some estimates, that number will have doubled by Christmas. He can be held responsible for each one of those deaths. When you are President of the world's dominant superpower, directly overseeing a population of around 330 million and guiding a foreign policy that can shape the lives of billions, decisions that result in suffering and death are part of the deal.
But Trump's combination of negligence (in the aftermath of events such as Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires) and hostile treatment of people and institutions (such as his brutal imprisonment and deportation of undocumented immigrants and dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency) means that we can easily trace the line between the man's decisions and the consequent anguish and casualties. He has ruined and ended lives, while alleviating little to no suffering.
Upon what grounds should we wish him well? To believe that a head of state who has presided so cavalierly over such a crisis deserves our sympathy any more than, say, a murderer facing punishment deserves our sympathy, is to buy into a model of sympathy regulated by the power of its recipients, and is thus morally empty.
So I don't sympathise with Trump - and yet I don't want the man to die. I don't want him to die because I don't want anyone to die. It may be that there are those we choose not to mourn, but there is never any pleasure to be taken in death.
Avoiding this schadenfreude is a challenge for those of us who find Trump despicable. Not only is he among the world's foremost distributors of cruelty, but his nature is cruel. He is one of the most filmed people on Earth, yet I have never seen him demonstrate anything resembling basic empathy. He frequently speaks gleefully of violence and derogatorily of his foes, and clearly envisions "his" military, of which he is in childlike awe, as fundamentally a purveyor of unregulated Rambo-style rampages.
On top of all that, he sees the most, or perhaps only, attractive feature of the presidency as being the opportunity it provides the office-holder to exercise raw power. There is no sense of grace or duty. For him the job is nothing but a flex.
Many of Trump's enemies interpret his genuine villainy as granting them permission to take pleasure in his suffering, his fear (as Trump was being taken to hospital last week he reportedly asked, terrified, if he was "going out like Stan Chera", a New York real estate friend of his who died of the virus in April). He would, no doubt, take pleasure in theirs.
I get it, the hatred of Trump, the wishing him ill. But I worry that to engage in this retribution is to mistake randomly distributed cosmic wrath for poetic justice.
The belief that his suffering or death would be something to enjoy is, I think, a category error. It is to wish for a moral universe where those who cause pain deserve to have pain inflicted on them, and that this revenge can be enacted gleefully. Indeed, this justification for sadism is baked into the foundations of our society, underpinning much of the workings of prisons, police and, in America, the death penalty.
To believe that justice might be delivered by cruelty, whether karmic, organised, or random, is to adopt the moral logic of blockbuster cinema. It's appealing because it makes no demands on our imagination.
Frantically refreshing Twitter, eager to consume the vibrant highs of increasingly dramatic news, I felt the pull of that logic. As with all politics these days, the experience had the rhythm of theatre, and the stakes appeared theatrical. In theatre, the most dramatic conclusion, in which the tools of evil are turned on their masters, often seems the most desirable.
Aside from the immorality of taking pleasure in the pain of others, we cannot expect that Trump has learnt or will learn any lessons whatsoever by catching the coronavirus. Having been unrelentingly inflicted with his chaotic presence for half-a-decade now, I can confidently say he is incapable of moral vision, and that no amount of personal pain or mortal dread would lead him to anything other than feeling reassured of his position as the victim. As others around him fall prey to the disease, he has shown and will show them no kindness.
When Trump adviser Chris Christie argued for a reopening of the economy in the wake of the first wave of the virus, he justified his position by saying: "There are going to be deaths no matter what." As I write this, he has just had his seventh night in hospital, and is reportedly experiencing the most severe case of those infected by the White House cluster.
It is not hyperbole to say that these are terrible men who brought their illness on themselves. So what are we to do with their suffering?
I am lucky to live in Australia and be rarely affected by the President's catastrophic governance. Perhaps my position would change if I lived in the US, if my life was threatened, if I'd lost a loved one. But I hope not. I hope that under any circumstances I would not wish for justice in the form of pain and death, but instead find it in their opposite.
- Dan Dixon is a writer who teaches at the University of Sydney. He writes about literature, culture, politics, and America.