Trump tweeted that he tested positive for COVID-19. This does not guarantee he is infected: the tests could have returned false positives, or he could be lying (always a possibility with Trump). Out of decency or social conformity most people are wishing Trump and his wife well, though some are hoping that he will get sick or even die. Long before this, Matt Gross argued that people should not wish for Trump to die—he wants Trump to suffer a fate worse than death. But some are publicly or privately expressing hope that Trump will die. This raises the moral question of whether it is morally wrong to hope Trump dies.
As always, the answer depends on which moral theory (if any) is correct. As a practical matter it is possible to discuss the issue while keeping in mind that all moral discussions must rest on assumptions about ethics. Let us start with something easy.
On the face of it, hoping that Trump (or anyone) will die of COVID would not be as wrong as killing him, getting someone else to kill him (as Trump has ordered the deaths of people), or letting him die when you could help him (as Trump has allowed Americans to die preventable deaths). Interestingly, one could make a case that merely hoping someone will die could be morally worse than killing them—if it allows a person to do evil that could be prevented. For example, merely hoping that a serial killer who is engaged in murdering your family will suddenly die of a heart-attack when you could kill them would seem morally wrong. But the focus here is on whether hoping Trump will die is immoral.
One approach is to accept a rule-deontological view like Kant’s and argue that hoping someone will die is always wrong. This would settle the matter—but would also morally require that the person who accepts this principle apply it consistently. That is, if they hoped that someone would die (such as Antifa members, rioters, murderers, or terrorists) then they would be acting wrongly. This would also seem to entail that causing deaths would also be wrong—if it is wrong to hope that anyone dies, it would seem worse to kill, order killings, or let people die. Naturally, a person could be right in advocating this moral view and yet be a hypocrite when it comes to applying it. They could, for example, call out someone for hoping Trump dies and then go on to hope that someone kills rioters at the next riot. This would not prove that their claims are not true—to think otherwise would be to fall for an ad hominem fallacy.
Another approach is to embrace virtue theory of the sort presented by out good, dead friends Aristotle and Confucius. The moral question would be whether hoping someone dies is consistent with being a virtuous person. Since virtue theorists argued that the right action is a mean between the two extremes, they generally do allow that violence can be morally acceptable. Neither Aristotle nor Confucius were pacifists. It must, of course, be the right amount, for the right reasons and aimed at the right person. This could certainly include using lethal force and in such cases the virtuous attacker would hope the target would die if killing them was right and necessary. As such, hoping for the death of another would not always be wrong. This leads us to, as Aristotle made clear, to the specifics of the situation: can a virtuous person hope that Trump dies and be acting in a virtuous manner or at least without vice? For a virtue theorist, the assessment would involve looking at the circumstances. Is the hope occurring at the right time, on the right grounds, towards the right person, for the right motive, in the right way, and in an intermediate degree? If so, then hoping Trump dies would be morally acceptable for that person.
As an example, a person could be virtuous if they hope Trump dies because they believe that Trump’s death would be good for the majority of Americans, because they believe that Trump has done great evil by his action and inaction, because they want what is good for their fellow Americans, and their hope is neither excessive nor lacking. As another example, a spiteful person who wants Trump to die because they loath him and hope to gain something personally from his demise would not be acting in a virtuous manner.
A final approach I will consider is the utilitarian approach: the right action is the one that generates more positive value than negative value for the morally relevant beings. Since Trump is morally horrible and his cruel negligence and lies have cost many Americans their jobs, health and even lives, it can easily be argued that the people of the United States and the world would be better off if Trump were dead. Hoping that this good would come about would seem as moral as hoping for any good, so hoping that Trump dies would thus seem morally acceptable. Those who support Trump think that Trump is good for them (some might even think that Trump is good for almost everyone) would disagree—they would see Trump’s death as a harm rather than a benefit. While Trump certainly benefits a few people (mostly the wealthy and the racists), he is clearly very harmful to most Americans—even if the assessment is limited to COVID. As such, a utilitarian account would make hoping for his death morally acceptable.