With all we’ve been through, it seems like an administration measured in dog years, but in fact this weekend we’ve survived just one year of Donald Trump — at least those of us not yet deprived of health care, exposed to greater risk by a gutted EPA, or still reeling from the ravages wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico because of a callous and unresponsive of the federal government.
It was just a year ago that Trump followed the Oath of Office with a dark, apocalyptic inaugural speech. Just a year since the cascade of official lying started with bogus crowd estimates. Just a year since we said goodbye to a President who called Americans to their best selves, who was welcome to travel anywhere in the world, who could welcome artists and sports figures to the White House without triggering protests. Just a year since millions of us took to the streets to electrify the resistance.
It’s a moment to take stock of what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained, and what the road ahead looks like.
Fundamental norms of democracy have been stretched thin by a President who has no boundaries, no respect for tradition or history, and no North Star but his own bottomless id.
Instead, we have a President who won’t condemn white supremacists, seeking to enshrine their noxious views in immigration policy, repaid with their undying allegiance and praise. He’s shown his contempt for the role of the courts, the press, independent intelligence and investigative agencies, science and data, truth, and diplomacy, to name just a handful of key institutions and concepts that we have taken for granted in the past.
Despite the exposure of their fragility, the institutions Trump has most sought to undermine — an independent judiciary and a free and robust press — have risen to the occasion to check him at times and expose his lies and corruption. Yet those on the right who made a devil’s bargain to elect and support Trump overlooked his unfitness for office precisely to weaken the courts as a check on executive and corporate power, and one area in which an otherwise often incompetent and dysfunctional administration is making steady gains is in stocking the federal courts with young, minimally qualified right-wing ideologues.
Meanwhile Trump’s relentless “fake news” attacks take a steady toll, as a significant minority of American voters have come to embrace his view that the press is an enemy of the people — a danger sign for democracy long after Trump has left the scene.
On the policy front, the toll has been grim. A sign at Saturday’s Women’s March read “IKEA Has Better Cabinets,” and while that is surely true, installed in virtually every federal agency is a leader whose principal aim is to undermine its mission, from environmental and consumer protection to housing and health care to justice. Fierce resistance stalled the repeal of Obamacare, but it is dying the death of a thousand cuts in one regulatory assault after another.
The barrage is so relentless that Politico launched a new weekly feature last year, “Five Things Trump Did This Week While You Weren’t Looking.” A review of the list is sobering, chronicling the rescinding or weakening a host of Obama-era rules on everything from equal pay to whether local police departments can buy military equipment of the kind that led to the debacle in Ferguson.
But there is also good news, and cause for hope, as we end a year of Trump.
Despite the enormous damage he has done and will continue to do, since he cares more for attention and adulation than anything else, Trump has done almost nothing to expand his “base” and is the most unpopular first-year President in recorded polling. And despite the cravenness of the Republican Congressional leadership, Democrats in Congress have held together effectively in a unified front (with a few exceptions, like the Gorsuch nomination), making it possible, along with a handful of renegade Republicans, to block Obamacare repeal and to have more leverage in some cases that a minority would ordinarily have — leverage they are using now to press for restoration of DACA protections.
Most importantly, the last few months have provided a powerful answer — in Virginia, in Alabama, and in the vast majority of special elections for state legislative seats around the country — to a question on many minds last year as the resistance to Trump took hold with rallies and marches around the country: Will the resistance translate into power at the polls?
So far, yes. All signs and trends point to the possibility of significant Democratic gains in the November midterms, but that won’t happen — or happen at the scale and scope necessary to repudiate and check Trump and his Republican enablers — without mobilization all across the country. No one can afford to be a bystander when nothing less than the future of democracy is at stake.
While a “wave” election has been made possible by growing embarrassment and revulsion at Trump’s behavior, and by the shameless Republican agenda of tax cuts for the rich, it will not happen if the principal opposition message is one of condemnation and critique.
Both the base of the Democratic Party and some of the voters lost in the last election will be most motivated by a positive agenda for fixing the country’s problems, and there is fresh evidence for that in new Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s emphasis on health care, new Alabama Senator Doug Jones’s emphasis on kitchen table economics while not giving any ground on women’s rights or LGBT rights, and new Wisconsin State Senator Patty Schachtner’s emphasis on the opioid epidemic.
2018 could be the year the country begins the process of rejecting the toxins that overwhelmed our political system in 2016 and laying the groundwork for a progressive restoration in 2020. We can’t control Donald Trump’s tweets. We can’t control what Robert Mueller does. But we can control our votes. If we take advantage of this moment, our country could be on a very different course than the dystopian turn it took a year ago.