One of the short stories I used to teach was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Prince Prospero decides to hold a masquerade party in his castle high on a hill and away from the town which is experiencing a plague, the Red Death. The Prince invites special wealthy guests to be safe in his abode and enjoy themselves while the paeans below them die mercilessly. He locks the doors to ensure that the pestilence does not come in and harm him or his guests, similar an idea that building a wall will prevent illegal immigration.
So what happens at the party?
The morale of the story is that no one, not even the wealthiest denizens, are immune to disease. One can’t lock one’s doors to the plague. A virus does not know the bank account or pedigree of its hosts. It’s just contagious.
And now we turn from 1842 when the story was published to present day where we have a President who does not believe the scientists or doctors. He feels he is immune, above reproach from a disease, from dying even. Just as he runs away from paying his fair share of federal income tax, he fools the American people not to do anything that could protect them from getting sick from the worst pandemic in 102 years.
Call it karma, schadenfreude, or a simple comeuppance, Trump has the coronavirus. Is anyone surprised? What is surprising is that it took this long for him to catch it.
Just a few days earlier at the presidential debate, he mocked Joe Biden for wearing “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” For months he mocked Biden for being too old and feeble. Well, who looks too old and feeble now?
What will be interesting to see is how Trump comes out of this episode. Will he restart his anti-mask campaign? Or will he admit he was wrong about Covid?
Don’t expect an epiphany from a family (all of them shunned masks at Tuesday’s debate even when a doctor in attendance was passing them out) who, like Prince Prospero, feel that they are better than us, richer, more privileged, who don’t have to contribute part of their earnings for the good of the country. How can regular people feel good about that?
To quote another piece of literature, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Roman senator Caius Cassius is manipulating fellow senator Marcus Brutus to kill Caesar. While faulting the leader for having physical maladies such as epilepsy or the falling sickness, he tells Brutus that “we have the falling sickness” when it comes to doing nothing to rid Rome of a dictator.
In a month, the people will have their once-every-four-year moment to decide not only the outcome of the election, but the direction of this tattered country. It is in the hands of its citizens, just as the Founding Fathers wrote it in the Constitution. The question from a 400-year-old play remains: how many of us have the falling sickness?