On Wednesday, January 20th, the current president of the United States will drink his very last Diet Coke in the Oval Office.
On Wednesday, January 20th, our national nightmare will be over. It will be the end of four very dark years in American history. It will be the end of separating children at the border, it will be the end of ignoring the pandemic, it will be the end of the insane tweets (well, at least the end of insane tweets from a sitting president). Military actions will no longer be announced on social media. White House press releases will no longer be typo-riddled messes that link to stories by far-right publications. A lunatic will no longer have access to the nuclear codes. Our government will no longer be stacked with kleptocrats like the president’s eldest daughter, the president’s son in law, the sleepy Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and various other low-level grifters. We will no longer worry about the President of the United States weaponizing the federal government against its citizens. We will no longer see photos of children on the Mexican border being gassed with tear gas. We will no longer be a cautionary tale of what happens when you elect the con-man monorail guy from The Simpsons. Other countries will no longer pity us. Our Canadian neighbors will no longer feel like the family that accidentally bought the apartment over the meth lab.
For me personally, it’s a strange sensation. Trump has occupied so much of my cerebral tissue; so much of my life over the past four years has happened with Trumpism churning away somewhere in the back corners of my mind. Sure, one of my kids won a debate tournament, but have you seen the tweet about how Trump was going to send ICE into sanctuary cities? It was like that all the time, at a relentless clip. Trump would deliver some terrifying Steven Miller-written speech and then I was supposed to go back to normal life.
In December 2019 I got FBI lawyer Lisa Page to talk to me. She was someone whom Trump had targeted and trolled and terrified. She told me about how Trump was unraveling the federal government and punishing government employees. Trump was targeting people like Page, Peter Strzok, and Alexander Vindman, making them famous and ruining their lives because he needed a villain to cover up his own incompetence.
After a while Trumpism got to be an almost regular part of our lives. We’d sort of shake it off, as just another petty annoyance. Trump wasn’t going to war with North Korea, or at least he probably wasn’t. And, as with any insane situation, there were the people who would normalize it and make fun of me for “taking everything so seriously.” People who would say I was over-reacting. Sure, Trump was gassing children on the border, but I didn’t need to get so hysterical about it.
Joe Biden’s win is like finding out the tumor is benign. It’s like finding out that the baby doesn’t have the birth defect you were worrying about. Joe Biden’s win is being treated as if America has dislodged a dictator, and that’s because we have. Defeating an incumbent president is deeply difficult and America has done it.
Biden is a good, decent man, a stark contrast to Trump. Watching the American people elect him fills me with a kind of hope for the future I haven’t felt in four years. On the Saturday the election result was finally called for Joe Biden, people danced in the streets, and I could hear cheering from my window. Sure, people were happy for Biden, but they were mostly relieved. They were so happy to be done with the tweets, the Trump kids, the federal agents of nebulous provenance grabbing people and taking them away in unmarked vans, the immorality and the chaos. After four years of watching America become Belarus, we are no longer hostages to Trump’s dictatorial machinations.
But Trumpism is hard to shake. Four years ago, on a cold November Wednesday, I went into my daughter’s butterfly-wallpapered bedroom and woke her to tell her that the guy with all the sexual assault allegations was going to be president. Perhaps she wasn’t old enough to know what the next four years would bring, and perhaps I wasn’t either, but we both knew the election of Trump was a loss for women everywhere—and, even more than that, it was a loss for decency.
The memory of telling my then eight-year-old daughter about the election of Donald Trump is seared into my brain, indelible. Even now, with 2016 firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s hard to forget what a loss the defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump was for women everywhere. And it just got worse, culminating in the installation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in RBG’s seat as the 2020 election was already happening. In fact, the last four years have been an enormous shit sandwich for people who believe that women should have the same rights as men, from the end of the Violence Against Women Act to the expiration of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Some people will be tempted to call Trumpism an aberration, a deviation from the norm, a momentary lapse in judgement. But we all know that’s not true. There is much soul-searching that needs to happen to prevent something like this from ever happening again. But the soul-searching should come later. Right now we need to take the win, to celebrate history made and dictatorship averted.