The Germans have a name for it, schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in other people's misfortune.
And except for the few saints among us, we have all probably been guilty of it, at least when it involves certain other people.
Schadenfreude, however, can be taken to the extreme; it can even be self-destructive like when we wish failure for someone whose failure harms us.
You can probably see where I'm going with this: the people wishing our president ill, even if this means disaster for us all.
There seems nothing our president can do to please these people, although Pat Buchanan has suggested something: bombing Iran.
I doubt this would do it. There seems nothing he can do to get their approval, much less their support. They do not want him to do well, even though his doing well is good for the nation.
After the underpants bomber incident, for example, some Fox News commentators could hardly restrain their glee, almost looking forward to another attack on us so that President Obama could really get blamed and maybe have to resign.
They seemed more focused on how this looked bad for Obama than on the persons who could have been injured or killed.
After the Haiti earthquake, Rush Limbaugh seemed more upset about how Obama would look good helping people than about all the death, injury and destruction.
He seemed less concerned about getting the people help than about who got credit for it. And it really, really bugged him that Obama would get some credit.
Other examples of "who-gets-credit" are the many U.S. Senators and Representatives who voted against federal stimulus money for various projects.
Later, they accepted this money for "necessary and worthwhile" projects in their states and districts, careful to avoid: (1) giving credit where it was due and (2) mentioning their opposition to the bill for this funding.
Repetitious negative labeling of the president and wishing him to fail this seems at its highest level ever in civilian society, thanks largely to the electronic media and Madison Avenue sound-biting.
Our troops, however, live in a different world the real one. In the military, the stupidity of wishing your commander in chief to fail is all too obvious especially for troops in combat.
Although I got out of the Army before Vietnam heated up and was never sent into combat, I was in when President Kennedy was shot.
We had a big, formal commemoration a final salute on the Fort Dix parade grounds. You really understood the chain of command that you had to memorize. You felt the loss of your commander in chief.
Perhaps things were not so political or partisan back then, but in my two years as a draftee, I don't recall anyone badmouthing the president or criticizing his performance.
I doubt much of this negativity went on in the military under our previous president. I doubt much goes on now.
Of course we civilians are freer to express our opinion of the president/commander in chief and he receives criticism from the right and the left. That's our democratic system.
But wishing him ill and wanting him to fail is as stupid and unpatriotic for civilians as it would be for troops.
The reason for such an unrealistic take on our president/commander in chief is not just certain radio and TV messages. It's also the smaller number of people now who have known the president as commander in chief.
Even the draftees not sent into combat experienced serving under a commander in chief. With no draft since 1973, however, fewer and fewer of us have military experience to draw on in forming an opinion of the president.
We are thus less able to appreciate the reality and complexity of that job. We are also more susceptible to media messages portraying him, essentially, as the enemy.
And, of course, wanting our president to fail is hardly supporting our troops, who are fighting our enemies under his leadership.
(Jim Lein is one of four community columnists for The Minot Daily News)