The psychological shock progressives felt on November 8 will be minor compared to the shock they will feel on January 20. Not since Bill Clinton turned the White House over to George W. Bush has their been such a disparity in terms of decency and dignity between an outgoing and incoming President.
They may play “Hail to the Chief” on the third Friday in January, but the most appropriate tune for that day will be Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”: Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…
Nostalgia for the 44th President will hit even the most strident of Obama’s progressive critics within hours of his departure from the Oval Office. Everyone who trashed Obama as too “establishment” for progressive tastes will wish he was still in power, as they contemplate the contemptible citizen who will take over for him.
Obama tried his best to make this country more civil, more tolerant, more welcoming, more in touch with our highest values and principles. Already, Donald Trump has destroyed that legacy.
Have you noticed that since Trump’s victory, people seem to be a little nastier, more willing to tell that racist or sexist or anti-gay or anti-Semitic joke in public, more open about disregarding decency? When Trump said he wanted to make America great again, he meant that he wanted to bring back the days when you could openly use slurs against anyone who was different. Sadly, he has already done so.
Before he passed away in 2004, the late libertarian Boston-based talk-radio host David Brudnoy was quite fond of using the term “Negro” to refer to African-Americans, long after that term had fallen out of favor in polite company. (He was also quite fond of bringing white nationalists such as David Duke on to his program; back then, these guys would call themselves “racial realists,” the precursor to the euphemism “alt-right”). I imagine Brudnoy would be quite thrilled with Trump’s election, though as a gay man he’d presumably grumble a bit about Mike Pence’s track record.
Trump will be America’s first President borne of the culture of right-wing talk radio. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were creatures of the William F. Buckley Jr. era, where the reactionary politics and policies were dressed up in fancy clothes and purple prose; Trump embodies those politics and policies with all the faux-civility stripped away. In Trump’s world, there is no use for federal civil rights laws, no recognition of the value of diversity, no need to be nice to anybody. Just throw it all into the wastebasket of “political correctness” and be done with it.
That’s the sickening thing about Trump and his malevolent minions. To quote the famous line from the Billy Joel song “All About Soul,” they represent the “people who have lost/every trace of human kindness.” They will cook up the most malicious policies they can get away with–and the federal judges they shove onto our district and appellate courts, as well as the Supreme Court, will happily molest the Constitution to declare that wrong is right. It has happened before, and our democracy has never really recovered from those ideological wounds.
Perhaps the worst can be averted. Perhaps a bold progressive resistance between now and 2020–in the streets and at the ballot box–will stop Trump and his team in their tracks. However, we can never forget what this dark moment in time means. We must tell our children and grandchildren about what led up to November 8, 2016…a day that will live in moral infamy.