A Letter to Trump Voters on Your Recent Loss
I know how you’re feeling. You’re tired. Angry. Defeated. You’ve staked your hopes for the future of the United States on the fortunes of a political leader who represented everything you knew to be right and true. You felt proud to be American once again. After spending the previous eight years wondering how the country had drifted so far from its erstwhile status as the “shining city upon a hill,” you were back on top and life was good.
But just as soon as you began enjoying the feeling of the wind at your back, it was all taken away in spectacularly public fashion, your once soaring spirit now crushed beneath the weight of expectations gone unfulfilled. I know. I’ve been there before myself.
In Trump some of you saw a pious patriot, a tough, self-made billionaire of great moral conviction who nevertheless was not afraid to “tell it like it is.” Others saw a useful idiot, a dilettante who could be counted on to execute a far-right conservative agenda crafted by his trusted henchmen, Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Either way, you overlooked who Trump really is.
Here’s the reality. A twice-divorced serial draft dodger who was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2009, Trump was handed more than $400 million over the course of several decades from his father through tax dodges and fraud. A silver spoon firmly planted in his mouth since his youth, Trump managed to translate his staggering inheritance into businesses that filed for bankruptcy six times. (We would know more about his finances, but Trump never released his tax returns as he promised he would, violating a tradition going back 40 years.)
As President, Trump was perhaps most well-known for his propensity to lie and exaggerate even the most mundane of things, like the size of his inauguration audience. His comic rejection of truth gave us “alternative facts,” an Orwellian euphemism for “falsehoods.” Trump also proved to have razor-thin skin, which was on brilliant display in the Twitterverse every time he lashed out at one of his favorite adversaries — the media, Democrats (especially women of color), a few disloyal Republicans, and political correctness — when he felt even the slightest grievance. His incessant projection of victimhood showed him to be less macho man than delicate snowflake, the obese embodiment of fragile masculinity.
To reasonable observers he never possessed either the temperament or the moral clarity required to serve as head of state. For example, as a man who reinvented himself as a far-right populist through the emergence of the racist birther movement, Trump demonstrated the important place of faith in his life when he misquoted the Bible and had protestors teargassed so he could stage a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. After four years as President, it became abundantly clear that Trump’s religiosity was a mere parlor trick intended to galvanize support among Evangelicals, who are only too happy to serve a leader willing to obliterate the separation of Church and State in favor of installing an American brand of theocracy à la Handmaid’s Tale. But to those who saw through Trump’s carnival act, he was obviously bereft of piety, compassion, humility, and humanity, the traits of a good Christian. To quote Peter Gibbons in the film Office Space (1999), Trump “represents all that is soulless and wrong.”
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Even in the 11th hour of Trump’s time in office, he couldn’t help but remind us of this fact as he celebrated an attempt by an aggressive caravan of his supporters to run the Biden-Harris campaign bus off the road in Texas (the FBI is now investigating this event) and cast doubt on the entire electoral process by claiming (without any evidence) that Democrats were trying to “steal the election” from him. Who would have thought that someone who had been privileged his whole life, had no relevant political or military experience, and was most well-known for his opulent lifestyle and reality TV game show wouldn’t be up to the task of governing the United States?
This embarrassing chapter in the story of America simply had to end for society to have any chance of redeeming itself in the service of achieving a brighter future for our nation and the rest of the world. One term in office was exhausting and disruptive enough. Another term might have exploded into civil war.
The reasons many gave for electing Donald Trump in the first place consisted of a number of dubious goals, nearly all of which have turned out in the opposite direction from what they had hoped. Below I recount the ways in which Trump has failed to achieve these goals over the course of his tumultuous and regrettable stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (and Mar-a-Lago).
Drain the Swamp. It was never quite clear what this meant, although potential candidates included “kick out career politicians,” “end the influence of special interests,” or, more cynically, “vote out all the Democrats.” In any case, Trump filled his administration with a veritable Who’s Who of swamp creatures, from Breitbart staffers to Wall Street executives to industry lobbyists to his own family members. An inexcusable contingent of his associates have resigned in disgrace or been charged with crimes. The only thing Trump drained was the patience and civility of the American people.
Repeal Obamacare. This was one of the centerpieces of Trump’s campaign. Not only was Obamacare not repealed (although the Supreme Court did chip away at it) despite dozens of attempts by Republicans in Congress, but Trump never articulated a plan to replace it. After four years of trying to eliminate healthcare coverage enjoyed by millions of Americans, you would have thought that Trump had a plan in his back pocket designed to protect the health of his constituents, especially when the pandemic struck. He did not.
Build the Wall. The need to erect a wall between the United States and Mexico became a rallying cry for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, but it was always a silly and impractical idea. For instance, the notorious Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo” famously constructed an elaborate tunnel system operating between the US and Mexico that was used to transport contraband from one country to the other. A wall would have done absolutely nothing to deter these kinds of illicit flows. Nevertheless, the simplistic notion of a border wall never fully materialized and Mexico certainly had no intention of ever footing the bill for it. All told, Trump’s efforts led to a mere 5 miles of new wall along a border that is almost 2,000 miles long (covering a whopping 0.2% of the divide between countries).
Lock Her Up. Despite his intention to charge and convict Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton of certain crimes(?), aided by the appointment of Attorneys General willing to execute Trump’s authoritarian machinations, nothing ever came of this misogynistic and baseless election ploy. Ironically, several members of the Trump White House would later be caught engaging in the same kind of personal email use that Trump argued should lead to Clinton’s incarceration.
Eliminate the National Debt. During his campaign, in an effort to appeal to fiscal conservatives in general and the Tea Party in particular, Trump promised that he would eliminate the national debt. But after signing into law his signature legislative achievement — a tax cut that actually encouraged businesses to move overseas— the national debt predictably exploded because, apparently, money taken away from federal revenue has to show up somewhere on the country’s balance sheet. The national debt expanded further due to Congress’s relief package for the coronavirus pandemic, which Trump mismanaged in the way only an inexperienced science-denier could. Fiscal conservatism be damned, the US national debt is currently at its highest level since World War II.
Make America Great Again. This phrase was as murky as the “swamp” mentioned above, but did have historical precedent as a slogan used by President Reagan in 1980. The phrase signaled Reagan’s ambition to restore America’s place of prominence on the world stage following the Carter Administration. In Trump’s case, the implication was that the US had lost its status in the world under Obama, who brought the country out of an economic recession, returned troops from overseas, and orchestrated passage of the most significant piece of social legislation since the New Deal — the Affordable Care Act. But despite Trump’s desire to return the US to some unspecified moment in history when it was allegedly “great,” nothing of the sort happened under his watch. The country witnessed numerous marches and protests against the Trump Administration; social upheaval when police officers killed unarmed people of color with impunity; a pandemic response so disjointed and inept that it resulted in the deaths of over 234,000 Americans (and counting); a swift decline in the extent to which other countries have confidence in the President and view the US favorably; the rise of right-wing terrorism; and the President’s inexplicable unwillingness to condemn white nationalism. While conservatives like to refer to President Obama as the “Divider-in-Chief” because he once remarked that police had “acted stupidly” when an officer mistakenly arrested a Black professor at his own home, Trump truly earned this title for himself. Under Trump, Americans have become more divided about how they view the President’s job performance than at any other time in recorded history. To conclude, Trump didn’t make America great again. Not even close. He threw it further into a state of partisan disarray that will likely take decades to repair.
This isn’t to say that Trump didn’t have any policy victories during his lone chaotic term in the Oval Office. He signed into law the economically disastrous tax cut mentioned earlier; approved a modest criminal justice reform package; moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (drawing the ire of the Arab world in the process); met with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un without obtaining any meaningful change in the regime’s bellicose tendencies (which now include building submarines capable of firing ballistic missiles); withdrew the United States from both the Paris Climate Accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ceding international leadership on climate and international trade to China; caused the US to leave the Iran Deal (recent evidence shows Iran is stockpiling nuclear material and building an underground centrifuge assembly plant); enacted a Muslim ban (Rudy Giuliani’s own words) so hastily and haphazardly that the Department of Homeland Security was barely given notice about it; separated hundreds of children from their parents as part of his administration’s zero-tolerance policy on immigration; and managed to shift the ideological composition of the Supreme Court for generations by violating norms explicitly articulated by leaders of his own party, like Senators Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell.
I know it will take a while to recover from the devastating loss incurred during this election. It feels bigger than you (YUGE, even). Although the votes were close in many states, the overall outcome seems like a repudiation of Trumpism. Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud.
Under a Democratic administration (assuming the Senate flips as well) your life will actually get better. You won’t see protestors looting Portland, women marching in the streets, or fake news that imperils your health coming from the President of the United States. You’ll see new investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and job training. Our allies will respect us again and our adversaries will have reason to tread lightly. Our air will get cleaner, our economy will grow stronger, our communities will come together, and our future will be more optimistic. All of this is to say that after you take the time you need to lick your wounds, just as I did in 2016, appreciate the fact that the post-Trump America you will soon find yourself in will be better for all of us. Together, we will make America great again.
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