Trump Wasn’t a Fluke — Here’s How We Stop This From Happening Again
As I’m writing this, we’re less than an hour from the end of Trump’s presidency — four explosive years that rattled our democracy to its foundation and culminated in a violent insurrection that desecrated the US Capitol.
Most of us were disgusted, but not all of us were surprised.
Over the past four years, I’ve heard many people use the phrase, “this is not who we are,” in response to Trump’s actions and his supporters’ behavior. It became a popular refrain every time we witnessed something atrocious—a way to assure anyone watching that we aren’t part of that group and a self-soothing mantra amidst a painful reality.
When Trump enacted the xenophobic Muslim ban his first week in office, referred to Mexican immigrants and asylum seekers as “criminals and rapists” and demanded unnecessary family separation at the wildly inhumane border detention camps: “This is not who we are.”
When Trump mocked a reporter with a disability, insulted a Gold Star family, or passed off jokes about sexual assault as “locker room banter”: “This is not who we are.”
When Trump signed executive orders to defile the sacred burial sites of indigenous peoples to erect a border wall and dig a pipeline: “This is not who we are.”
When Trump refused to support the Equality Act, appointed homophobic judges, fought against healthcare protections for queer people, and enacted a transgender military ban: “This is not who we are.”
When police officers knelt on a man’s neck until he stopped breathing, shot an innocent woman to death in her own home, maimed peaceful protesters with rubber bullets, or committed countless other violent acts against BIPOC: “This is not who we are.”
When Trump and his supporters refused to accept the election outcome, and when Trump and other elected officials fostered misinformation that poisoned their supporters’ minds and encouraged further division: “This is not who we are.”
When people refuse to wear masks, even as COVID infections spike, overwhelming ICUs, forcing our healthcare professionals to make impossible decisions, and risking the lives of essential workers: “This is not who we are.”
And two weeks ago, when we watched in horror as white supremacists launched an attempted coup — an unprecedented, deadly insurrection: “This is not who we are.”
But, you see, this is precisely who we are.
We harbor racist, sexist, classist, misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic tendencies. And we exhibit these vile prejudices and discriminatory beliefs most when we fail to speak out, listen, and have hard conversations with ourselves and others.
Donald Trump is the human embodiment of American greed. But he wasn’t the problem. Rather, his presidency resulted from our failure to address our own worst tendencies — the evil thread woven into the fabric of our country. The one we hide behind parades and flag-waving and fireworks. The one we gloss over or wholesale ignore in our schools’ history books. And amidst our inaction, this thread grew stronger, and our penchant for greed festered.
To say, “this is not who we are” is to abdicate all responsibility and instead project blame onto those people when, in fact, we are those people.
It’s painful to acknowledge that this is who we are today — but it doesn’t have to be who we are tomorrow. It’s up to each of us to undo generations of deeply indoctrinated and dangerous beliefs, reject the status quo, question our traditions, quell the spread of misinformation, and never stop working to better ourselves and each other. It’s uncomfortable work, but it’s necessary work.
I once interviewed a healthcare activist and nonprofit leader who told me many people give up on activism because, even after years of work, they often only see small, incremental change. They become jaded and hopeless with the slow pace of progress. Everyone wants to be a part of the big watershed moment, she said, but you can’t have the watershed moment without the buildup — which is hard, tiresome, and unglamorous.
She told me it’s each generation’s job to move the ball further down the field as many yards as you can before your time is up. That’s how we make the world a better place.
This United States is a deeply flawed and divided country borne of a violent and shameful past. You can love our country and still accept this to be true. You can love our country and still fight for significant change. In fact, if you truly love our country, advocating for expanding social programs, rejecting bootstrap-ism, and voting for people and policies that will end inequity is the only logical way to proceed. Because hurtling full-speed down the path of self-interest and greed (and the resulting hate and oppression) damn near ended us.
The Trump presidency was heavy and exhausting, but it also forced me to confront my own flawed beliefs, subconscious prejudices, and complacent inaction. Now I’m committed to listening and learning, taking meaningful action, recognizing when I make mistakes (with humility), and doing better. And as a citizen of this country and this planet, I believe it’s my duty to continue that work for the rest of my days.
Today we celebrate the end of a cruel presidency and, hopefully, a return to civil discourse within the political sphere. Today, from our living rooms and workplaces, we’ll watch as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are sworn in, thus signaling the dawn of a new administration and the death of the old.
But we haven’t fixed the problem that gave us Trump, and that’s why there’s no room for complacency or resting on our laurels — not ever again. We must hold ourselves and our elected officials accountable, regardless of party alignment, and we must get active where we can do the most: in our own communities.
It’s our turn to move the ball down the court, to fuel the watershed moment, and to work toward that more perfect union — the one we claim but haven’t yet achieved.
It’s our moment, and we can’t afford to waste it.