I have not been the same since November 8, 2016. Trump’s presidency hurts. I’m taking it personally. But my anger, sadness and fear aren’t just about Hillary Clinton losing, or about the obvious fact that Trump is unqualified and unfit. Sure, those things factor in. But the hurt goes much deeper. Why am I taking this so hard? I’ve been thinking about that, and here are some of the reasons I’ve identified.
It hurts because I think we are much better than the policies we are seeing coming out of the Trump White House. With all of our national flaws — the wars we’ve fought for the wrong reasons — the harm we’ve done, deliberately and inadvertently, to people who are not to blame for their circumstances — our national original sin of slavery — despite all of these national failings, the impulse to do the right thing, to correct mistakes, to make life better for more people — has always existed, I believe, in the DNA of the United States. We have a history — replete with many detours — of becoming, over time, more inclusive, more open to new ideas, of expanding rights, of looking out for people in difficult circumstances, of fairness, and of looking outward into the world beyond our borders and welcoming the world in. The overall trend has been to increasingly see ourselves as being a part of something bigger than one person or one country.
It hurts because the Trump presidency represents a sharp turn away from those values. It hurts because we are moving backward toward us vs. them, toward zero-sum politics and policies, toward a narrowing of vision, toward a constriction of rights, toward the re-institutionalization of unfairness
In the overall scheme of things, I thought our country was maturing. It hurts to see an emotionally immature president who is unconcerned about other people’s pain, who — like a child — wrecks things for his own entertainment, and who refuses to look beyond his own financial interests and bottomless emotional needs.
It hurts because this narrowing, this darkening, this closing up is not happening because of a sudden trend or crisis that calls for a shutdown of generosity. It’s happening deliberately — not based on evidence, but on manufactured fear. There’s a cynical, calculated effort to turn people against one another as a means of creating the kind of chaos and dissension that consolidates power in an autocratic leader. It’s all happening by design — some of it stemming from ideologies that were once so far out on the fringe that they were considered laughable — some of it for pure profit — and some of it from reptilian anger, prejudice, fear and meanness. It hurts to see a democratic system — with all of its many flaws — that has the potential to do so much good — being manipulated to further enrich and empower an already privileged class that has no empathy for people unlike them — and who blame other people’s misfortunes on their own lack of will.
It hurts because we are only at the beginning. As the new regime rushes to prove itself action-oriented and decisive, we have already begun witnessing the direction it is taking us in — especially in undermining the institutions that were designed to prevent precisely this kind of autocratic, demagogic leadership. It hurts to see a president who revels in the breakdown of trust, and who abets that breakdown by lying and exaggerating, and by shutting down the free flow of information that has always been a critical line of defense. And it hurts to see that there is apparently no one around him — in the White House or in the Republican party — with enough spine or morality to say no.
It hurts because recovering from the damage already being done — as well as the wreckage that will surely follow — will be difficult. It’s been a hard fight, through the years, to expand civil rights, protect workers, keep information flowing freely, protect the integrity of voting and elections, guard the environment, and keep democracy from eroding. We are already witnessing how easy it is, by the stroke of a Sharpie, to destroy years of progress. It hurts to realize that, with the complicity of a self-serving and bullied Republican Congress, so much could be undermined with so little thought. And it hurts to realize how hard it will be to gain back rights and protections after they have been taken away.
And it hurts because we have seen how much better things can be. We have had presidents who rose above themselves, who came equipped with ideas, who pushed for policies and laws that helped people, who valued fairness, who accepted criticism and even occasionally admitted mistakes, who listened to advice and formulated ideas based on facts, and who, properly awed by the responsibility of the job, took their work seriously and acted with dignity. [And I’m not just talking about Obama here. Even Republican presidents — well, just about any president you can name — has approached the job with more intellectual curiosity and humility that the current holder of the office. ] With each day, with each new spiteful executive order, with each new tweet and lie and focus on petty distractions, we are reminded of the contrast.
I’m pretty certain that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I haven’t figured out an effective treatment. So, I’m just going to keep my eyes open, learn, speak out, protest and write.
One thing I know for sure: This hurt will not go away by playing through the pain.