Sometimes, “too soon” is actually too late.
If somebody makes a joke about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I still feel a twinge. Hell, it’s only been 57 years.
Too soon for jokes, I think. Too soon.
Likewise, one-liners about Abe Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth make me uncomfortable. Come on, it’s only been 155 years. Give our wounds a chance to heal.
And yet, on the morning after President Donald Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center, there came a message that brought a smile that could not be suppressed by many of us who saw it online.
Question: What does it mean that Trump contracted COVID-19?
Answer: It means Ruth Bader Ginsburg won her first case with God.
The line got enough circulation that it made the front page of Sunday’s New York Times. The paper laid it out there as a shorthand measure of our gaping national political divide.
If you think Trump’s been a swell guy, or if you think it’s too soon to share a laugh over a sick man in a hospital bed, then you’re pretty angry about the joke.
But if you think it’s poetic justice that he’s gotten the very virus he’s called a hoax, you might have found even more amusing a cartoon the other day showing Trump standing over Justice Ginsburg’s coffin at her recent memorial service, and the coffin lid lifting to allow her to extend a middle finger toward the president.
So then, the question for the day: Are those of us finding wry humor, and a clear sense of irony, in Trump getting hit by COVID-19 a bunch of insensitive and hypocritical slugs?
Or would it be hypocritical to suddenly express some kind of empty compassion for Trump after all he’s said and done?
In other words, the kind of compassion he has utterly failed to express while 210,000 Americans have gone to their graves and 7 million more of us have been hit by this sickness, whose lasting damages are still not fully known.
In other words, should we simply forget the kind of honesty this president failed to show even when he knew this disease was a killer and yet continue to downplay it for political purposes, continued to set a mask-less personal example, continued to hold indoor rallies with thousands of people gathered tightly, continued to mock those who took the simplest precautions, and not only imperiled himself but U.S. senators, a Supreme Court nominee, and countless other government officials?
And that’s not all.
Late Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, he staged the worst photo-op since he had the streets outside the White House violently cleared of peaceful demonstrators so he could stand in front of a nearby church holding a Bible in his hands – upside down, at that.
He topped it Sunday when he sent out a message saying, “I learned a lot” by getting sick himself. “I get it, and I understand it.”
Oh, good. Seven million U.S. cases later, he finally gets it.
He then proceeded to leave the hospital for a short while and stop outside Walter Reed to greet cheering supporters from a motorcade.
This prompted Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, to tweet, “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days.
“They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”
So for all you Trump supporters who think it’s “too soon” to tell a little joke about a sick man in a hospital bed, it’s not. In fact, it’s far too late for so many who followed this president’s lead and paid the price for it.
And the jokes are only a sad attempt at a little laughter to help us slip lightly past the graveyard.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).