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Schadenfreude is a recent immigrant from Germany to the American version of the English language; Merriam-Webster tells us it means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.” It has become a staple of television entertainment, with the rise of pseudo Courtroom shows and of reality television. But at its core, schadenfreude is destructive. It says, “Look at that loser!” and laughs, rather than taking the high road of thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” And it is very tempting for politicians, Democrats in particular, to lapse into schadenfreude when our Republican President – himself arguably a highly successful product of reality TV – and several Republican federal-level politicians find themselves victims of the very disease that the federal government they have led has lacked the will, if not the ability, to control.
But it is not schadenfreude to note that in the latest skirmish between politics and science, this week science has clearly gained the upper hand. Politics is frequently selfish. Those in political power are led to favor others who are powerful, and to argue that it is only from the largesse of the powerful that subsistence flows to the rest of us. Let us all support the Chamber of Commerce and oppose Labor Unions, because it is businesses who provide the jobs, and never mind the fact that the minimum wage has not risen at all while the business owners have seen their own slice of the pie increase tenfold and more. And let us support science only when it provides the answers that we need or the answers that we want to hear; we’ll ignore the rest, or claim that we believe “what our gut tells us” rather than what the woman or man in the white smock has found after months or even years of data collection, study, and experimentation. Let us listen to the politicians who say “Open up the economy, all the way!” while seeing the pandemic grow to kill two hundred thousand Americans; after all, the victims are largely not productive citizens but rather the old, the poor, the black, the Hispanic. Such people are not the typical members of the Chamber of Commerce.
But ultimately it is, and always will be, truth and science that prevail. We can, and should, provide hope and prayers on behalf of the First Family and politicians who are now fighting a potentially fatal disease. But at the same time, let us recognize that it is up to all of us, the large majority who are employees and not just employers, to fight this pandemic the way those scientists tell us is the only sure cure while we await their development of a vaccine. Wear masks whenever near other people not of our own household. Wash your hands, do so repeatedly, and do so thoroughly every time, especially when near a public setting. And maintain social distancing whether in a store, or at work, or at school, or at a political rally, or when considering where and how to vote. And, above all, do vote – and vote for those politicians who not only “talk the talk” about supporting education and learning, but who “walk the walk” and, in their private and public lives, follow the unequivocal dictates of mathematics and science. This week, in October 2020, it is easy to see who they are, and who they are not. And that is not schadenfreude, it’s logical thinking. Think – and vote – this election year!