At the end of Trump’s first year in office, we take stock. Trump’s presidency has proven to be every bit as disastrous as many of us predicted, but the United States hasn’t transformed into an authoritarian, white ethno-state, at least yet. Resistance, for lack of a better word, is working.
The future is unwritten, and the outcome now and going forward hinges on the choices that people make as a collective reflecting whether they agree to collaborate with political evil or not.
Rather than recalibrate, the national press has redoubled its commitment to providing a check on government power, with vigorous reporting on the manifold revelations about Trump’s involvement with Russia during the campaign and transition. The courts have also exercised their Constitutional role as a brake on executive authority by challenging and slowing down the implementation of Trump’s executive orders accelerating deportation and banning Muslims from entering the country. While the Republican congressional leadership has largely caved to Trump, voters in Virginia and Alabama have handed Trump allies stunning defeats.
Perhaps most importantly, the people have not allowed the serial liar, misogynist, racist, xenophobe and Islamophobe in the White House to change widely accepted social norms and values. The day after the election Triad City Beat published a cover depicting Trump surrounded by demagogues of the 20th Century, including George Wallace, Jesse Helms, Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Adolf Hitler. We did so not so much for shock value but more to signal that Trump’s election and presidency exists outside of the norms of decency. Some readers responded by threatening to boycott our advertisers, and indeed at least one advertiser withdrew their business. It was worth it: The government serves the people, and a press that fails to hold the government accountable is a disgrace to its mission.
Resistance manifested in all kinds of ways, most dramatically with the massive crowds that turned out for the Women’s March the weekend after inauguration with protesters bedecked in “pussy hats” to mock a president that bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. The sheer numbers of people who turned out for the Women’s March in DC and around the world underscored the fact Trump won the presidency without carrying the popular vote; his bald lies about the popular vote being “stolen” further eroded his credibility and increasing detachment from reality.
Far from Trump’s election normalizing sexual assault against women, the #MeToo movement emerged in October with a ferocity that few would have predicted, taking down serial abusers in the liberal cultural-political sphere from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor. While conservative America appears to be inured to the perils of patriarchy — Exhibit A: the vast majority of white voters in Alabama backed Roy Moore — it must be noted that Fox News jettisoned Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly before #MeToo. In any case, it’s clear that Trump’s election did not insulate predators, and in fact it may have triggered the soul-searching that led liberals to clean their own house.
On immigration enforcement, there’s no doubt that Trump’s policies have inflicted untold suffering on unauthorized immigrants who came here to work and otherwise have abided by the law — people like Nestor Marchi of Greensboro, Minerva Garcia of Winston-Salem and Juana Tobar Ortega of Randolph County. According to the New York Times, deportations rose almost 40 percent during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. Yet it’s hard to make the case that the Trump administration has radically transformed immigration enforcement: Aside from the carve-out of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Obama’s administration took a markedly harsh stance towards undocumented immigrants, earning him the epithet “deporter in chief” while sending migrants who fled gang violence back to certain death in their home countries. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have treated immigrants as a bargaining chip rather than upholding their humanity as non-negotiable.
Meanwhile, President Trump has remained largely consistent in articulating a vision of the United States as a white, Christian nation. The president’s retweeting of inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda by the far-right group Britain First in November is only the latest example of Trump’s agitation for a white ethno-state. Pandering to Texans by appearing on the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast next to a Lone Star flag while chiding Puerto Rico on Twitter that “we cannot keep FEMA, the military & the first responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in PR forever” is completely consistent with Trump’s “America First” policy, which is nothing but code for white people first.
Trump was the outlier after the widely condemned Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, when he defended Confederate monuments and failed to clearly and unequivocally repudiate white nationalism. Even more frightening was the statement in October by Trump’s chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, on the Civil War. By stating that “the lack of ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” Kelly essentially attacked the legitimacy of the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law — a cornerstone of freedom for non-white people that was forged in bloodshed.
There is a remote if plausible scenario as the Mueller investigation unfolds in 2018, one in which the Republican Congress fails to act on an indictment of Trump for treason, bribery and other crimes, and in the absence of a functioning government, a military strongman who wants to re-litigate the Civil War takes over.
We may later decide we wish we could go back to a buffoonish developer-turned-reality-TV-star who floundered in self-inflicted chaos.