Why I’m thankful for Donald Trump

Why I’m thankful for Donald Trump
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If having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body, the Donald Trump presidency is like having the darkest part of our national selves sitting in the White House. As President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE begins his second year in office, his pettiness, prevarication, casual racism and misogyny are clearer every day. He’s the living, breathing embodiment of the worst impulses from our collective Google search history. Those traits are disappointing, maddening and sometimes terrifying, but they are a reflection of us. Perhaps the broken mirror the Trump presidency provides can also be useful.

The American presidency is often the brightest political spot in the sky, projecting an image to the world like the Bat Signal in Gotham City. Instead of a call for help from a strong hero, Donald Trump’s image highlights our weaknesses. The reality-show president personifies the petty part of ourselves that pauses before holding the door open when someone rushes to catch the same elevator. He exemplifies that prickly bit of our psyche that yells profanities at cars that cut us off on the highway. More ominously, he relishes in the fearful assumptions we make about people we see on the street because of what they look like.  

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Most of us feel pangs of guilt, shame or disappointment in ourselves when these frailties emerge. Not Trump. The president doesn’t seem to have those self-reflective emotions. In a conflict, Trump reacts like an internet troll; he gives the boastful, brash response we imagine we might have said if we weren’t adults with responsibilities and an aversion to negative consequences. He delights in using crude epithets to take down opponents for mild slights. He proudly rejects apologizing, even when obviously wrong. He blatantly lies about his casual racism even when men of higher integrity bear witness to it.

 

But Trump is not an outlier on racism and sexism. Sixty percent of women report being sexually harassed and even 25 percent of men admit to harassing behavior. According to a poll by Robert Wood Johnson and NPR, slightly more than half of African Americans report being personally discriminated against in employment or interactions with police. About one-third of Latinos report the same treatment. However, the same report revealed that 55 percent of whites believe they face discrimination as well. The president represents those anxieties, too.

America’s internal struggles have not just played out on therapy couches. The country has wrestled with these demons in public before. Our revolutionary heroes fought for freedom while many of them owned slaves. Modern presidents signed legislation protecting women’s rights while conducting illicit relationships with female staffers. Good foreign-policy leaders marshaled public support for wars in Vietnam and Iraq with dubious reasons. In his first year in office, Donald Trump has exhibited the worst tendencies of those leaders without the benefit of their best traits, their calls for sacrifice, responsibility or generosity.

Trump makes us think about how much we are willing to be ruled by our most base instincts, our repressions, the dirty jokes we tell at bachelor parties, or racist internet searches. And maybe that is a good thing.

For years, mainstream conservatives winked at racist elements of the American polity. They turned their heads away from hateful people who pulled the same GOP lever on Election Day. They chose not to speak up in pursuit of electoral power. Some still try to perform this trick. But it’s getting harder to ignore the racists. A president who describes Mexicans as rapists and African nations as “shitholes,” makes repugnant forces comfortable enough to chant neo-Nazi slogans and launch car attacks that kill innocent women, like jihadist terrorists.  

Trump is making clear the line that divides us. Do we believe that opportunities and resources are meant to go first to straight white Christian men, or does everyone in America get a chance to achieve? Do we all get to participate?

Despite Trump, or maybe because of him, many people are moving in a positive direction. Pew reports that “54 percent of whites think the country needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites.” That’s up from 39 percent in 2014. Among Democrats, the gap has narrowed considerably since 2009 between whites, blacks and Hispanics on the need for more changes to ensure equality.

Americans will still argue over policies. We have differences over public spending, policing, immigration laws and a host of other issues that impact race. That’s fine. But shouldn’t we agree on the goals of equality, opportunity for all and shared responsibility?

The Trump presidency is making clear that it’s time for each of us to choose.  

Thank you, Mr. President?

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns.