He Can’t Hurt Us Anymore, But The Trauma Will Last For A Long Time. Let’s Do Something Good With It
He’s gone. He can’t hurt us anymore. Donald Trump is no longer the President of the United States. He is permanently banned from Twitter. He no longer has any power to yield over those he seeks to oppress, or authority he can manipulate and corrupt. He is now disgraced and weakened, living in a sort of exile in Florida.
The entire Inauguration was cathartic, from the powerful poetry by Amanda Gorman, to the celebratory concert and fireworks in the evening. But it was also bittersweet. Not far from our minds is the sad state Donald Trump left the country in, and the challenge we have to try to pick up the pieces and put the nation back together again – if we even can.
Anybody has ever been in an abusive relationship knows exactly what the last week was going to feel like, and every emotion felt familiar. First we will look at all the evidence in place to know that it will be over soon. We see the new president’s schedule, we hear the news acting sure the transfer of power will happen; but still you feel like it won’t be. You can’t accept it. Those finals minutes, when you know its about to end, and yet you wonder if something will happen to prolong it. As if you’re checking around to see if there’s anything you missed that can allow him to hurt you again. I felt it all. The QAnon conspiracy theories didn’t help. Yes, it seemed absolutely insane that Trump would use the inauguration as a means to trap Biden and other top Democrats in Washington and have the military round up and execute them, but a lot of things that happened in the last four years have been insane. It might be a consequence of years of abuse and gaslighting that you no longer can tell what is unrealistic and what is just an unbelievable thing that could happen.
The weight lifted when it was clear he was gone, but it still felt hard to accept. Is there some quirk in the system that make him still President? Biden took the oath ten minutes early, does that change anything? Is he really gone? You go through stages until you finally accept, its really over. Thursday, I stared at the television during Biden’s COVID-19 announcement and the White House Press Briefing in disbelief. It feels like a dream, like I had fallen asleep watching one of Donald Trump’s pathetic press conferences or reading some of his insane and inflammatory Tweets and dreamt of what a stable, normal administration would look like. It feels like I’ll wake up, be in the middle of the nightmare again, and tell my friends how I dreamt Joe Biden was president last night.
I had a sign ready to go for this moment that I had made four years ago. It read “I Survived The Trump Presidency.” I decided not to bring it out, and instead I destroyed it. I may be true – I did survive the Trump presidency – but hundreds of thousands of my fellow Americans did not. It didn’t seem like the right tone.
It was every bit the nightmare and disaster I had expected to be, maybe worse.
There’s a silver lining though. When we look back on the last four years, I think we’ll discover that it is a trauma we had to go through. In Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” that she read at the inauguration on Wednesday, she redefined patriotism as something different that the symbolic nature we’ve grown accustomed to:
Patriotism, she said, is the ability to recognize the mistakes of our past, and dedicating ourselves to the hard work of correcting them. What is left is a “more perfect union,” the words etched in the Preamble of our Constitution.
For my entire life, nearly four decades, it felt as if patriotism encompassed this fear of lifting the proverbial rock to see what was underneath, because we know it won’t be pretty. Trump kicked that rock away. The ugly underbelly is exposed and we can’t ignore it. We have to deal with it. In the Trump years, we saw what we were capable at our worst. The blinders are off now. We can no longer deny the existence of ignorance, of racism, of white supremacy and of misinformation. We saw how quickly a virus can bring us to our knees, how fast economic security becomes economic catastrophe, the slim margins we all survive on, the apathy – and even the indignation – of the rich, whom we were led for decades to believe would “trickle down” their wealth upon us if we empower them to. We have seen how quickly our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, coworkers and acquaintances can be conned by lies, and incited to do evil. It’s not a secret anymore. Just standing for an anthem, wearing a pin and waving a flag is no longer enough. Symbols are insufficient.
If that’s the lesson we take from the Trump years, and we channel that into positive action going forward, we may end up looking back at this era as what saved our nation, rather than what broke it.