11/14/20, Meadowbrook, Brighton, NY [Photo: David Kramer]
I was texting with my sister the other day, and President Trump was set to make a public announcement for the first time since he lost the election. It was the longest stretch of silence in his entire presidency, and we were both anxious for word from the leader of the free world who ordinarily can’t shut up. Would he finally concede, she asked?
I didn’t need to turn on the television or open up CNN on my phone to know that he wouldn’t. I wrote back: it may not be physically possible for him to concede. I can’t think of a single occasion when he said that he was sorry. Nor can I think of a single instance when he acknowledged failure. It could be a symptom of his malignant narcissism or a total commitment to the philosophy of positive thinking. If you never admit defeat, you cannot lose. Either way, he is a man who has abandoned self-doubt as a virtue and sees no utility whatsoever in embracing loss. Agree with it or not, it’s his playbook and he isn’t about to throw it in the fire now.Psychology aside, if we are being honest with ourselves, the work for all of us has really just begun. For half the country, Trump was the great leader who would take it all on. To the other half, he represented a scapegoat for every problem in America. Both of these positions are irrational. Trump has never been the source of America’s problems. Nor has he ever been capable of being an answer to them. He is a man. Not a superhero and not a demon. A mere man who, in a short while, will go back to being just another citizen like you and me.
I can go further and say that every challenge that has existed in America preceded Donald Trump’s presidency: Human rights. Racial justice. Health care inequities. Police-community relations. Religious liberty. Global warming. Rabid partisanship. Foreign and domestic extremism. Crumbling infrastructure. Runaway student loan debt. Crippling rural poverty. Drug addiction. Misogyny. You name it. Under President Obama, more people were deported from the United States than under Trump. Ferguson happened under Obama’s watch. The economy imploded under Bush in 2008, and our civil rights were shredded in the Patriot Act. NAFTA was pushed through by Clinton, not Trump. And after he leaves office in January 2021, these problems and their legacies will remain. Even COVID, which struck while Trump was at the helm, would not have been so devastating if there was not such staunch anti-intellectualism and mistrust of science embedded in the American mind. These are forces that have existed in this country for a long time. Trump merely saw his opportunity and capitalized on them.As I see it, it’s just us from here on. You and me, my fellow American. We are in this together, whether we like it or not. There is no superman to rest our hopes in or to take away the problems with a barrage of false promises and tweets. But that means there is no more scapegoat to pin our troubles on either. For those who have suffered from Trump Derangement Syndrome, his sudden demise will come as a rude awakening. For nothing has stopped people on both the left and right from getting things done more than using Trump as an excuse to do nothing but complain. As I stated, the problems have always been the same. But now we have to accept total responsibility for them: the climate, race relations, national security, social cohesion, and this pandemic. Now it is time to get down to the basics of solving our own problems. No more escape from freedom. No more leaving it up to the snake. No more blaming it on Trump or looking for Trump to place the blame on others. We are all blameworthy now. The upside is that we are also in a position to be praiseworthy. But only if we are ready to assume the challenge of total responsibility — for our own lives and for the future of our nation.
UPDATE: A shortened version of the essay appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, SPEAKING OUT section, Sunday, 11/22/20.