What Comes After The Trump Era™?
Perhaps the most striking aspect of The Trump Era™ has been the way we’ve collectively, as a nation, been borne to the edge of our wits by the rambling, vulgar man technically occupying the White House. 2017 was a hell of a year, and so was 2016 before it. And rather than things looking bright, we’re barely two weeks into this year and we’re already hearing racist rants. This isn’t just a shift in status quo, this is the status quo. It’s a whole era.
So when did The Trump Era™ begin for you? Was it on January 20th, 2017, during an inauguration soaked with slurred words, crude misunderstandings of the basics of presidential etiquette, and hilariously erroneous crowd-size claims?
Was it on November 8th, 2016? The evening we all sank further and further into despair? I remember dashing home to flip on the TV, trying to watch seven stations at once. We were hopeful then, of course. Hillary Clinton was far from anyone’s idea of a perfect candidate, but in the face of the looming maw of destruction that was Big Boy Donny Trump, it was the least we could hope for. I was looking forward to never have to hear the words “Donald Trump” again, and things would just quiet down.
Everything started to turn south at about 8 pm, when Pennsylvania was called. I remember thinking then that this was it. Trump had taken Pennsylvania and he was going to rout the rust belt states and pull off the upset. My fiancée and I simply sat there in shock. Our cat got so worried about us that we had to tearfully explain that she would never understand why we were sad.
But that wasn’t the beginning of this era, either. Maybe The Trump Era™ began on July 19th, when he officially accepted the RNC’s nomination. Or was it even June 16th, 2015, the day he announced his campaign?
These last couple years have been rough, to say the least. But this is not some idyllic alternate-history piece imagining The Paradise That Would Be had Hillary Clinton won the presidency. Or Bernie, for that matter.
The truth is that The Trump Era™ did not begin on any of those dates. It’s been here for a long time, and is so ingrained in American history that we forget to see past it.
The Trump Era™ was the racist backlash against the nation’s first black president. The Trump Era™ was the decades of war and war crimes perpetuated for decades by administrations of both major parties. To pretend like the problem started with Trump is woefully short-sighted and ahistorical. It’s not Russian meddling. It’s as American as Black Friday doorbuster trampling deaths.
This isn’t to say that things haven’t changed, though. They have. We didn’t have to worry about nuclear war under Obama or Bush or Clinton. The lingering back-of-your-mind terror that Big Boy Donny might incite nuclear winter with a careless Tweet is a new phenomenon. His recent declaration of how he is, like, really smart just further underscores the era of madness we are surrounded by. It used to be a given that the President was like, really smart. But now we’re not so certain.
Are we worried that there is a warmongering, blustering, white nationalist, xenophobic fool in the White House? Of course. But most American presidents throughout history haven’t been much different. We’ve been a white nationalist country from our inception. Hundreds of years of slavery and genocide and Jim Crow and internment and deportation and cruelty and regime change were all carried out under our proud flag.
So when you think about The Trump Era™, think about not just the specifics of who he is, or what he’s done, but upon the mindsets that he’s built on. The long, sordid history. The stuff that’s been festering for decades or generations or centuries. Trump would be nothing without the American people, after all. He’s a fool, a charlatan, an idiot, a complete mockery of a human who can’t walk up stairs. He likes his steak well-done with ketchup, for crying out loud!
And yet, millions out there have chosen him as their champion. And the morning after the election, we woke up like a hangover and looked at each other, wearily and warily, as if remembering something about ourselves we’d forgotten.
The only way we can move beyond The Trump Era™ is to view it in the full context of this kind of history, and of the very real struggles that we face in building a more just world. And then we must build that world.
How do we do that? We would like to pretend, at least, that we can get past our differences and work together. The answer for all our problems is not in one party or the other, but in consensus, in bipartisanship, in collaboration, in compromise. At least, that’s the popular idea.
You see this reflected in every politician’s rhetoric. Ever since this political cycle started how often have we heard about how “we are more similar than we are different”, or maybe “what unites us is more than what divides us”, or maybe “we are stronger together”?
In all of this, it seems there’s a certain veneer of respectability and professionalism to which we intend to aspire as a society. We want things to go back to normal. Presidents must be “presidential”, politicians must be professional, and we have certain rules of decorum. If The Trump Era™ has been anything, it’s a time in which those rules have been dismantled for a naked show of bigotry and crudeness. But even those rules were always papering over the truth.
Consider the recent elevation of Republican politicians such as Senators Bob Corker, John McCain, or Jeff Flake by well-meaning Democrats. These senators, and others such as Susan Collins, are considered great models of moderation, bipartisanship, compromise. These senators plead for “decency” and “decorum” while simultaneously decimating the healthcare system, enforcing a militarized police state, and crippling the working class for the benefit of the wealthy. Most or all of them are still anti-LGBT, anti-choice, and would absolutely be in favor of a GOP-imposed theocracy if only the President wasn’t such a mean tweeter.
What’s the use of decency at all if we’re going to use it to mean pretty words instead of good actions? How can anyone say this is decent or good or just? Bipartisan compromise is an empty symbol of the kind of politics that never made any real-world sense.
The opposition to Trump cannot be merely a rebuke of his crudeness, but of the core of his very politics. It’s not enough to wish for a “sane” Republican, a “competent” Republican — because by definition, a competent Republican would only be more effective in curtailing civil rights than even Trump has been.
The problem isn’t limited to Republicans, either. Plenty of Democrats are completely on board with the massive expansion of imperialism and surveillance states, and yet we have to like them more because they’re only slightly less evil.
We must end The Trump Era™ as soon as possible. But now we’re talking about inertia. This isn’t just about the fool who will take himself down, but about how we as a country and a globe will move on from this present moment. How will we build from this, and how do we prevent this from happening again in the future, when someone much more sophisticated in their cruelty comes around and tries the same thing again? Someone who uses much prettier words for much worse ends?
Some things won’t change until we make them. The Trump Era™ will continue no matter who’s in the White House until we create a fundamental, radical shift of the project of American ideology. Every single one of us will have to change and be changed, and when the future comes it will come for everyone equally.
There is no “status quo” we can somehow return to. The status quo of 2018 builds from the status quo of 2017 from the status quo of 2016 and on and on as you go back years and decades. Every word and moment is witnessed by hundreds of millions of people, each with their own dreams and aspirations. Everything is changing, it always does, and it’s up to us to make that change.
So what does the future look like, after The Trump Era™ has ended? That’s the question we must ask ourselves every day and that’s the goal we must work towards. What happens next?
There’s reason for hope. And reason for despair, too. It’s basically a 50/50 split on whether we become some fully-automated post-work utopia or a fascist hellscape by the end of my lifetime. There are thriving youth movements of young far-left and far-right activists, each plotting their strategies for the long-term goals of the next few decades. Battle lines are being drawn, candidates are being recruited, and everything we thought we knew about politics is about to enter a whole radical new stage. Soon enough, even bipartisan consensus, that noble aspiration we thought we could be, will be rendered untenable.
So it’s utterly crucial that we continue the momentum of change beyond the Trump presidency, beyond the American project. We’ve crossed the threshold now where we can never go back to normal, because there never was such thing as normal.
An Austin-area radio host I used to listen to, Sean Adams (RIP), would sign off every broadcast with the words: “Do something good for someone today, because the people who make the world worse aren’t taking a day off.”
That’s the work ahead of us. It starts now. With human connections and radical, unconditional empathy. Take some time to be good to one another, to stand up for one another. Catch someone when they fall. They will catch you. We can’t hope for a reality star, or a talk-show host, or a politician to swoop down from on high to save us. We can only do it ourselves. That’s the only way.
We can make an America where we really, truly help each other up. Where your worth as a human is prized and respected, and you are loved. That’s an America we keep saying we believe in. But we’ve never seen it before. Not yet.