After three years, who are we now?
A week after Donald Trump was elected president, writer and scholar Sarah Kendzior, who had predicted in 2015 that he would win, wrote a public letter to the American public.
“My fellow Americans,” it began. “I have a favor to ask you. … I want you to write about who you are, what you have experienced, and what you have endured.”
She saw dark days coming, and, in the remaining time before Trump’s inauguration, she wanted Americans to take stock of themselves and document it for future reference. What and who did they believe in? What were their values and their beliefs, their hopes and dreams for themselves and for their children? What were their memories?
I didn’t see Kendizor’s letter in 2016, but I read it earlier this week to prepare for a video interview with her about her new book, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America,” for the LA BookFest. Her book documents Trump’s “decades-long erosion of American stability, integrity, and democracy.” I recommend it, especially if you have any doubt about what’s at stake in this year’s presidential election, but I suggest you avoid reading it at bedtime. It is, by necessity, a deeply disturbing book.
This passage of Kendzior’s 2016 letter stands out, to me: “Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.”
In 2016, it was surely jarring to read that. How could Trump change us in such fundamental ways?
In 2020, we know the answer. Kendzior’s directive now feels like a mandatory check of our collective conscience.
I don’t need to give you the list. Either you are willing to recognize how much damage Trump has inflicted on this country, or you aren’t. If you are still willing to vote for Trump after so many unnecessary deaths because of his willful incompetence in this pandemic, I can’t spend any more time trying to reach you. Trump is the most dangerous president in U.S. history. He must be defeated — and in a landslide. Voter turnout is everything.
If ever there were a time for self-reflection as Americans, it is now. Regardless of who we are supporting for president, we have changed in these three-and-a-half years of Trump’s presidency.
Everyone notices, as Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole recently wrote with devastating clarity:
“The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.
“If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the U.S. would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the U.S. as the world’s leading nation — an idea that has shaped the past century — has all but evaporated.
Who were you before Donald Trump lived in the White House? What did you expect from your leader, your president? What did you take for granted as you slid into bed and turned off the lights? What vile rhetoric did you assume would never be uttered by the leader of the free world?
How do you talk about the presidency now with your children and grandchildren? When is the last time you felt comfortable pointing to the television screen and saying to a child you love, “You could grow up to be president someday”?
Who were you before Donald Trump was elected?
Who are you now?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.