This is embarrassing to admit, and exposes one of my many character flaws. But four years ago, I spent a little time wondering, “When Trump inevitably damages every institution that has supported him, should I say ‘I told you so?'”
It’s an ugly inclination, I know. I’m sorry.
I was feeling incredibly frustrated at the time, because I had tried so hard to dissuade my fellow Republicans from making him the nominee in the first place. I was so convinced he belonged nowhere near power that I served, for the first time, as a delegate for my district during the primaries. My little district, at the very least, would not support his candidacy.
It didn’t matter. He won the nomination, and then the election.
Four years later, I can tell you this: I no longer feel like saying “I told you so.”
His supporters have long accused me and other Never Trump conservatives of being motivated by hate. They say we just hate President Trump. They’re wrong. Love has been my motivation. Institutions I care deeply about were in danger: conservatism and Christianity.
Now, watching the smoking wreckage of conservatism and the grievously wounded witness of evangelical Christianity, I feel anything but victorious.
Watching one friend after another walk away from the faith because of the hypocrisy of the church, I feel anything but vindicated.
Watching the American flag dragged down and a Trump flag raised over our Capitol, I felt only revulsion and a deep sadness. Watching deluded fellow citizens swarming over the representative heart of our democracy, raising a gallows, hunting our Vice President, beating one police officer with a flagpole, crushing another in a doorway, beating another to death, smearing their own feces on those hallowed halls, I felt only horror and heartbreak.
Worse, far worse, were the reactions of almost every single one of my Trump-supporting friends and relatives. Perfunctory condemnations of violence, followed immediately by whatabouts, excuses, defenses of their hero, and of course, conspiracy-fueled fantasies that boogeymen from the left were the true villains.
What should have been a solid red line, a unifying moment for all Americans of good will, became, stupefyingly, another illustration of how divided we’ve become. We can’t even agree on what we all saw: that a Trump-supporting mob, invited to Washington by Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol because they believed Donald Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, and that all of it was unequivocally wrong and should never have happened.
Look at where we are. Look at where this presidency, this man, has brought us. Millions of people believe Biden didn’t actually win the election; faith in our democratic system has been undermined by lies. Untold thousands—possibly millions—believe a Satanic cabal of baby-eating pedophiles is running the world. More than one of these deranged extremists has been elected to Congress. Ludicrous conspiracy theories have infected countless Americans, destroying relationships and tearing families apart. We suffered the worst cyberattack by a foreign adversary in American history last year, and it was barely a blip on the radar thanks to our domestic chaos. Four hundred thousand Americans are dead, and thousands more are dying every single day.
As I write this, I’m watching Joe Biden take the oath of office. I’m surprised by the tears in my eyes. I have never, never cried during an inauguration before. And although I voted for him, I’m not particularly thrilled that he is now president. I’m not excited that a party I’ve opposed my whole life is now in control of America.
But I am relieved. I am so, so relieved. It feels as though a hundred pound weight has been lifted off my shoulders. These have been four long, disillusioning years, and now, thank God, they’re over.
This is the first time in 152 years that an outgoing president has refused to attend the inauguration of his successor. It’s the final, petty act of a small, bitter man, and I’m thankful for it. His presence would have poisoned this solemn, hopeful event. Let him slink away in shame. Let his toxic influence wane, and wither away.
It will take time.
President Biden is speaking now, pleading for unity. He acknowledges that this may sound like a “foolish fantasy.” But he’s right. We do have to find a way to be united once again.
Unity doesn’t mean we will always agree. It doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences for those who’ve attacked and undermined our democracy. It doesn’t mean we must try to find common cause with demagogues or lunatics or criminals.
It means we stop demonizing everyone who holds a different position than we do. It means we give each other the benefit of the doubt. It means we are willing to work together, to listen to one another, to compromise. It means our churches extricate themselves from party politics, and stop presuming to link a person’s vote with their salvation. As our new president said in his inaugural speech today, “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”
Let’s put out the fire.
Let’s put this dark period in American history behind us.
Let’s lean in to a better, united future, together.
Amanda Gorman blew me away with her poem at the inauguration today. I encourage you watch the entire thing.
“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be,
A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”