By the time you read this, Trump will almost be gone…or will already be gone.
This was a presidency like no other. Not because of what was created, but because of what was laid bare. The last four years has been USA unfiltered: a vision of the country stripped of nation-branding PR, sweeping political rhetoric, romanticized American Exceptionalism and the whitewashed freedom fairy-tales of Super Bowl halftime commercials.
For centuries, residents of the US—from African-Americans to feminists to labor organizers to anti-war activists—have been telling us that the story of the United States of America being told to the world was fundamentally flawed.
This was a big chunk of the United States after a few beers, with the cameras rolling, saying who the country “really” belongs to. Who should be punished by the law, and who should be above the law. Who can use violence, and who should have violence used against them. Which “culture” has value, and which cultures do not. For four years, the United States of America has let its id run rampant. The ugliness was in the sentiment, but what shocked many was the openness and confidence with which that sentiment was expressed, and how it cut across economic boundaries.
If people were shocked, they haven’t been listening.
For centuries, residents of the US—from African-Americans to feminists to labor organizers to anti-war activists—have been telling us that the story of the United States of America being told to the world was fundamentally flawed. They were telling us that there was a rot and the core of the nation, manifested in a deep, unyielding sense of entitlement to control the political, economic and social soul of the nation. Black Lives Matter was about the killing of unarmed Black citizens, but it was also about how Black citizens of the US must survive in a nation where they are considered, by a large portion of the population, to be second- or third-class citizens. Where Black women and Black babies die at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. Where Black men are far more likely to be executed than a white man for the exact same crime. Where Black citizens have a harder time getting loans, jobs or insurance. Where white politicians argue to not count votes in overwhelmingly Black sections of the country. Where white people storm the Capitol because that argument was rejected.
And so here we are, four years later. The easiest thing for the United States of America to do would be to treat the last four years as a perverse aberration, or as a momentary lapse of reason. Another easy thing to do would be for Democrats to use Trumpism as a political, moral and ethical benchmark with which to gauge the success or failure of the Biden administration.
The underlying conditions that enabled Trumpism—racism, corporate control of politics, hyper-commercialized media, savage individualism—were not simply the function of Republican politics, but a result of a broader long-term zeitgeist that benefitted, regardless of political affiliation, the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
Both would be a huge mistake.
The underlying conditions that enabled Trumpism—racism, corporate control of politics, hyper-commercialized media, savage individualism—were not simply the function of Republican politics, but a result of a broader long-term zeitgeist that benefitted, regardless of political affiliation, the haves at the expense of the have-nots. That’s a bitter pill for many to swallow, but if they don’t, the nation can never progress. If corporate media cannot critically engage with their own role in smearing truly progressive politics, normalizing anti-democratic politics or fueling racism and Islamophobia, then the lessons of Trumpism are lost. If Democrats cannot critically engage with Obama policies that saw large numbers of innocent civilians in Yemen or Pakistan killed by drones, or an uncomfortably close relationship with Wall St., then the lessons of Trumpism are lost.
By the same token, the answer to every criticism of Biden in the coming four years cannot not be, “But, Trump!” Improving over the worst presidency in modern US history should not, and cannot be the bar over which Biden must pass. This would hand Trumpism precisely the kind of power so many opponents claim to be against. To drag what is an already flawed, problematic US political system deeper into the mire by setting standards so low that they are near impossible to not reach.
Many US citizens who live at the receiving end of inequality organized and voted to implement change in the US. Despite their living with injustice, they placed their faith and hope in a system that has often failed them. They deserve better than waiving away the last four years and an aberration, and they deserve more than a simple return to the status quo.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.