Well, that was a long 1,461 days! My lord! I’ve been writing on the Trump presidency nearly every day since it started and I am not totally sure what happened over last four years and don’t think we will know the depth of things for quite some time. There are, though, historical markers, events that will help define Trump’s presidency: The Muslim Ban, North Korea brinkmanship, revealing secrets to Russian diplomats, Charlottesville, the fight over the Wall, the uncovering of the family separation policy, the Helsinki Summit, the Ukraine Call, First Impeachment, the many Twitter firings, the pandemic, the election campaign, the Floyd/Taylor protest crackdown, a recession/depression, the election, the Big Lie, the insurrection/self-coup.
While every presidency leaves an ugly skid mark, the bad is usually balanced by some semblance of “good,” whether in the form of competent and successful counters to crisis (Obama’s economic recovery and Ebola response, for instance), policies and legislation that actually help people, an attempt to do the job one was hired to do and solve at least one of the nation’s problems, etc. Sure, Trump claims responsibility for great things, but reality presents his “accomplishments” as shoddy or full of deadly consequences borne of his delusional ranting, bumbling, arrogance, and/or laziness.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to build a continuous wall along the 2,000 miles of southern border. It was to be paid for by Mexico, or so he said. That didn’t happen. Trump hit up Congress and then stupidly refused the wall-for-DACA deal that Sen. Chuck Schumer disgracefully offered. Then he resorted to diverting money from other programs to the wall. He micromanaged every aspect of the wall like it was the reception area of one of his resorts. Contracts were awarded to some pretty shady people, some of whom became suspect in various grifts. Trump made many trips to the border to pimp the wall, talking about all the great progress that was being made. In the end, only fifteen miles of new wall and 350 miles of replacement wall were built. Three hundred, seventy-eight feet of wall is currently under construction or is in planning stages, and most of that will stop with Biden’s signature.
We are one year into the pandemic and 400,000 people are dead from complications brought about by the coronavirus. Trump’s denial, lying, hucksterism, conspiracy mongering, incitement, laziness, delusion, corruption, and ineptitude are solely responsible for at least half of those deaths. He has fueled a distrust of science and expertise, and given license to anti-vaxxers and militant conspiracy theorists. He railed against competent state response, which jacked up anti-government extremists who have threatened and attacked public health officials, public servants, and elected officials. Trump gave a Twitter nod to far right militants to stage an armed occupation of Michigan’s state house, which later devolved into a foiled plot to kidnap and perhaps assassinate Michigan’s governor. Trump’s lies, conspiracy mongering, and incitement created the foundation for January 6th failed insurrection by his supporters.
So, with the wall, Trump’s “best laid plans” went to shit and resulted in failure. With the pandemic, his free-form flailing and reactionary improvising gave us 400,000, while supercharging ignorance, conspiracies, and far right militancy – all of which any dispassionate observer would call a failure.
Certainly, if we look at how Trump left the country, his reign is a total failure. In so many ways, America is in piss-poor shape. Our body politic has been beaten and left to die at the side of the road. It breathes, it can see, and its limbs work well enough to start the crawl from out of the ditch. What keeps the body politic alive is the one thing that stopped Trump from doing maximum damage: The people.
Over the last 1,461 days, I have seen two things that give me great hope for the future. The first is that Trump forced us into a four-year civics lesion. Many more people understand why democratic government is important, how it works, and what we must do to make it work. People who too often resorted to pissy generalizations about politicians and institutions started to see nuance. The “all or nothing” attitude that has long plagued the left has started to change. We are beginning to understand that allies are often more important than fellow travelers and that it is okay to not agree 100% with our partners in change. And, finally, finally, cynicism seems to be on the retreat.
The civics lesson also included lectures on our history. Four years ago, the words Black Wall Street meant nothing to most of us, including a lot of African Americans. We did not know of Black Wall Street simply because its history had been suppressed. Today, right now, I am quite confident that if you are reading this, you know what Black Wall Street signifies. You can tell me where it was and, perhaps, the date when it died. You can sketch out a short paragraph about what happened to it and why, and you know why what happened is an atrocity, a crime that includes its cover-up. This is just one piece of our hidden history that we are no longer ignorant of.
The four-year civics lesson, with its sections on hidden history, helped grow and sustain mass citizen involvement at all levels of politics, which is the second thing that gives me hope. Just days into Trump’s reign we saw protesters occupy airports, in opposition to the administration’s Muslim Ban. We witnessed and participated in mass marches around women’s issues, in promotion of science, and in opposition to gun violence. The street also saw battles between anti-fascist activists and member of the militant far-right, something with many liberals condemned at the time, but which seems pretty damn important right now.
All of the action on the street gave us the courage and inspiration to act, and a template to act on, when we saw the video of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer. Instantly, people took to the streets. Initially, the protesters were Black Live Matter activists, anti-fascists, and people who live for street action; however, very quickly the body of dissent represented people of all ages and colors, every ethnicity and gender orientation. The protests grew in size and persisted over days, then weeks, then months. When Trump tried to violently suppress protests – including using secret police to snatch people off the street – more people took to the street to fight for our rights. These people included middle-age, middle-class white people, folks who too often stay silent out of fear or worry or ignorance.
Every single time Trump tried to strip environmental, labor, safety, and even food protections/regulations, he was met in the courts by public interest lawyers, who often beat down his executive orders. Same thing with attempts to open up public land for exploitation or sale, limit immigration, punish protesters, etc. Trump would sign an order and BAM! he got thwacked in court. His loss rate is historical. When public interest firms didn’t hit back, state attorneys general and city attorneys did. Again, even when a case landed in front of one of his hand-picked judges, Trump did lousy in those court fights. And, as we saw in his attempt to steal the election, the law told him No!
It is important to note that the attorneys that fought these fights are not celebrity lawyers or mega-bucks superstars. These are people who have devoted their careers to public interest law or public service, most often working for a fraction of what they could make in corporate America. They drive Honda Fits, while paying off student debt and mortgages. They are us.
We also engaged in less dramatic ways, such as communicating with elected officials. Too often, the simple act of calling or emailing an elected official is written off as fluff or inconsequential. It is not. Each phone call, letter or email to an elected official demanding that the official vote a certain way or support a particular issue creates a mandate that the official can use as political capital to help create change. Remember, politics is a numbers game. We don’t have the money, but we do have the people…but only if they show up. Contacting elected officials is showing up, just as marching in the street or voting is showing up.
By engaging in the electoral process, we turned out in record numbers in both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 general election – as well as primaries and special elections. We didn’t limit ourselves to voting. We volunteered for campaigns, worked on Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, and fought voter suppression. This kind of sustained activism – especially in GOTV and fighting suppression – was vital in flipping Arizona and Georgia from red to blue, which helped Biden win the presidency and the Democrats the Senate.
People who never voted before voted. People whose only political act was voting volunteered for campaigns or more. Many people were inspired to attended marches and protests for the first time in their lives. And more than a few first timers ran for office. There are readers of the Comment whom I know from the musical world, who, four years ago weren’t political or maybe thought about politics but didn’t take that step into action. Today, they are no longer spectators. They act as owners of our democracy.
And, finally, thanks in part to Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other progressive/left elected officials, we started to see power pragmatically, not ideologically. We rejected cynicism and generalizations, embraced inside/outside politics, and saw power in that, too. For too many years, we crippled ourselves by seeing change as possible only through street action or only through electoral politics, when the truth is that we need to work on all levels if we want change. It is no good yelling at buildings if there is no one inside to listen to your demands and act on them. It is very difficult to make change when the only people in the building with you are the bosses, and there is no one outside to have your back.
So, yes, I am hopeful. While we have a very ill and damaged country, we are no longer in denial about our sickness. Long ignored weakness in our social and governmental systems have been exposed – from the flimsiness of our democratic “guardrails” to the shoddiness of our health care system. American exceptionalism is dead and we are the better for it. We know that the system is riddled with racism, sexism, and other prejudices. We acknowledge the presence of white supremacy and misogyny. We also realize that at least a quarter of the population is confused, delusional, ignorant, hateful, fearful, and/or resistant to change. We are very clear that some among the right-wing are enamored with authoritarianism and open to violence, as well as terrorism.
While we have a ton of shit to fix and make better, we come at it without any illusions. Ove the past four years, we have created an engaged citizenry who clearly knows what is at stake as well as the cost of inaction. We have elected officials in place who can act on our demands and we now realize that to get them to act we must be present in the process and treat democracy and this country as if they are ours, which they is.
And, when I write elected officials, I do not stop at Bernie, AOC, and the squad. I also mean Nancy Pelosi, who did a boss job over the last four years keeping the Democrats together in opposition, giving Schumer and others a backbone, and taking it to Trump whenever possible. I am referring to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their administration, too. While I can’t predict the future – nor should I try – I know that Biden will at least listen and that he is inclined to make good change. His fuck-the-deficit, trillion-dollar pandemic proposal, his immigration plan, and initial executive orders are a very encouraging opening act. His appointments, while not exciting, are promising. We have turned in the right direction.
There are possibilities in the Biden Administration, but here’s the thing: Nothing will happen without you and I working our asses off to make things happen. I am very happy with Biden’s pandemic proposal, but I would be overjoyed to see the tens of millions of people who voted for him marching this weekend in support of it. I understand why that won’t happen – security, the pandemic itself – but imagine if it did, imagine the message that that sends to Congress, imagine that ten Republicans see that crowd of people demanding a real, sizable bailout and feeling that they are safe in voting for it, and imagine that the bailout’s passage and its success being one more defeat serve to Trump, one that weakens his hold while strengthening our case for change.
Yeah, I’d like to see a weekend of pro-pandemic bailout marches, but I also realize that we don’t have to limit ourselves to that one idea. There are other ways to push for change. We can’t be fixated on one tactic or one opportunity. While we must always demand more, we also can’t limit ourselves to one all-or-nothing moment. We must be flexible and stay engaged. We will only make change if we are persistent and consistent. We fight for everything and take what we’ve won…and keep fighting. When we fail, we step back, look for new openings and reengage. We must take the lessons from the past four years and apply them to now. We can do this. I know because, over the past four years, we were persistent and consistent, and now Trump is gone and his people are on the defensive, desperately mired in confusion and violence. This is on us, people. Let’s tear the roof off the mother sucker!