As Donald Trump stares down the barrel of impeachment, Alicia Lutes argues that his presidency has forced a large segment of American society to stop ignoring key issues.
I don’t want to type the words I’m going to type, because I’ve not liked holding them in my brain, and I don’t want them to be true. But I’ve been charged with naive idealism on more than one occasion in the past, and it’s important to be frank about the truth. And the truth is that some people don’t learn until things are really, really bad.
Which is why I think – deep breath – the Donald Trump presidency was almost necessary to facilitate the discussions that we’re having and the change that I, at least, feel hopeful is coming. I’m not sure we’d be talking about these vital issues – climate change, immigration, abuse of power, white privilege, racism, sexism, equality – in the way we are, if he weren’t the Menace-in-Chief.
I feel sick typing those words out, because that man does not deserve any credit he or his followers could construe as positive. But I also know how people work, and a lot of people don’t think too deeply about politics and its impact. This is part of messing up. Voting for Trump is just an extension of that mess-up, to a much larger degree. I wish our better nature as a species and a country had prevailed, but it didn’t, because at the end of the day a lot of people have to learn things the hard way. Particularly when they are not faced with the challenges their disinterest results in for many other people.
From Obama to Trump
But there’s an awareness level in the air now that’s being cultivated because of our Trumpian fuck-up. Would it have happened if a liberal ended up in office after Barack Obama? I’m not so sure, because the level of comfort we all felt as a nation during those times rarely increases self-awareness. In juxtaposition, Republican/conservative presidencies are when social movements are at their peak, and awareness of the bigger, more existential issues loom large – just look at the Reagan years compared to the Carter years, the Clinton to the Bushes, and Obama as a response to all of that. Think about how climate change and the AIDS crisis became major issues; now think about how sexism, racism, and climate are coming into play now. Think about the strides we’ve made for our LGBTQIA+ brethren. Could it all be better? Of course, but relatively speaking, this stuff only happens when our backs are against the wall.
This is how our historical Trumps (for lack of a better term) happen. People only see how bad things really are when a more conservative man wins and tries to pull us backwards. So we scream louder and more thoughtfully about the things that really matter. Only this time, Trump laid his corruption bare, upended norms, broke laws and in doing so ultimately exposed corruption and spinelessness in our nation’s leaders. So this time, our screams at least cracked the echo chamber. This time in history has shown us that norms are not the same as laws and maybe we should fix that. Someone, one day, was going to make things bad enough so that our world, increasingly more connected and vocal than ever, could speak truth to power, loudly, and expose all our festering wounds. Do you really think people would be this loud, angry, and ultimately heard if someone more comfortable and status quo had actually won? This is where the idealist in me rankles against my own thinking. Because, of course, I believe all things are possible and that there’s a very real chance these conversations would still be happening. But also, I have to be real and say there’s also a part of me that thinks no matter how far we have come in so many ways, so many people haven’t. And it is often, historically, how the country moves forward: by resignation over time after being repeatedly forced to face the truth. They call victories “hard won” for a reason. And Donald Trump is nothing if not a hard win to handle.
As someone who loves people, reads a lot of books about them, empathizes a little bit too much, and tries to sympathize always, I want to believe in the better aspects of our human nature—I want to believe that we could evolve without taking a couple hundred steps backwards in time. But sometimes you have to fuck up to get better. And in those darker times, a light really truly always does shine through: people speak up, loudly, and with conviction, to try and shine on a light on the things that should unite us, the things that affect us all.
Trump: America’s opportunity to learn?
So Donald Trump is our fuck-up: our opportunity to learn on a 14-karat gold platter (as he would of course insist). Has Donald Trump as president hurt us more than helped? Yes absolutely, on every possible level. But we can also see, quite clearly, how much he’s inspired the opposition to evolve and try to change things for the better as a reaction to his completely corrupt and selfish incompetence and generalized white nationalism supremacy. Let’s be real: how much of a groundswell would the #MeToo Movement have had if we weren’t all out-of-our-minds with rage over the man in the Oval Office, in addition to Weinstein’s actions? I truly don’t know if it would have been as large and loud, though I want to believe that it would’ve. At this point, more people actually feel like they have nothing left to lose because they’ve already lost so much. This sort of thinking helps. To be sure, it will mostly be thanks to people of color and other marginalized groups yelling and screaming at us that finally woke us up a bit. But I see, every day, more and more white people learning (just ask the AT&T guy I had a conversation with a few weeks ago, or the teen boys I overheard talking about white privilege the other day). And because I am an eternal optimist and silver-lining enthusiast, I feel like I have to hold onto and believe in that, even if I know and also see a lot of bad.
Trump: necessary for change?
It is a selfish, unfair, and downright criminal that such an egregiously bad thing as “President Donald Trump” has happened to our country. It’s also completely not surprising and was maybe a little bit necessary for what I hope is a huge, resultant sea change. Impatient though I may be for it to hurry up and get here already so that we may be freed from this darkest timeline, I know that sometimes social revolution takes as long as evolution. But that subset of Americans that live their lives apathetic to the political machinations of our country – those mostly middle class and white, who say things like “nothing ever really changes no matter who is in office” – needed to see the abuses and aberrations in judgement and governing that Donald Trump has actively encouraged. They wouldn’t have believed such things were possible otherwise.
The largest portion of the American population isn’t Democrat or Republican. The largest portion is the millions of people who simply do not vote because “nothing ever really changes”. They’re not the ones who are going to decide the election – that is a theory for another post on another day – but they may help push this lumbering beast we call society into a more evolved lane. I know that because this mentality is familiar to me, being born into and raised in a middle-class, suburban, white, Connecticut family. I also know it because I see it. These are people who found Donald Trump funny and charming in the 90s and early aughts because “he says what everyone’s thinking”. My mom, who once joked about wanting to marry Donald Trump, now knows he’s a horrible man. My grandfather who staunchly supported our president now says he’d rather just not vote.
I am not happy that white apathy and a refusal to investigate the privileges we have is such a huge problem that dictates and outright hurts other people’s lives, but I don’t want to be naive about it either, and how much bad shit has to happen in order for people to want to try and fix it. But this is what the actuality of the machinations of fixing it looks like: slowly, with resignation, and/or a lot of talking. But in the end every little bit helps.