If I am being completely honest I had no idea what to expect when 2017 dawned. Being only seven weeks removed from an absolutely baffling election, I still had not wrapped my head around what happened or how. I could not understand how Donald Trump had been elected. Some of what I read made sense, other parts made absolutely none. The man seemed like an absolute insult to the office he would soon occupy and an even bigger middle finger to the party that had just elected him. As an American, I remember being legitimately fearful for our country, especially the vulnerable portions whom he seemed more than willing to demonize and cast blame upon. I just seemed to be enveloped in an overarching feeling of despair that I could not shake, there was no lens I could look through with enough aperture to brighten my perspective at the time. It was just darkness, nothing more, nothing less.
Yet as I write and look back across a year in time, those feelings seem so unfamiliar and distant. There is no longer a pervasive sense of dread nor an impenetrable darkness surrounding me. The feelings of hopelessness have subsided, the apathy atrophied. Today I write not with sorrow for America, but instead with hope inspired by my fellow Americans. It is not a hope born of an unsuspecting change in our leader, but instead of a movement his actions have inspired. Let me be clear, the man has been as bad, if not worse, than pretty much anyone expected him to be.
In a lot of ways Donald Trump has amplified and exemplified the worst impulses of a leader. He has proven time and again to be an insecure man, seemingly incapable of ever stepping out of the spotlight, consistently creating intellectually confounding controversy with ever escalating egregious statements and actions for no apparent reason. He has replaced diplomacy with reckless tweets, nuclear saber rattled with unstable leaders, made verbal love with brutal dictators, withdrawn from centuries old allies and alliances and abdicated America’s leadership role in the world that generations of Americans have fought, and some died, to protect. Furthermore, he has cozied up with a man and country who sought to undermine our democracy while wholeheartedly dismissing the assessments of our very own intelligence experts. Through his reckless actions America’s international standing has diminished, our soft power – the ability to influence without the use of force – has been destroyed, and our moral leadership bankrupted. For whatever his outwardly facing failures have been, his actions within America and towards fellow Americans have been even more damning.
Mr. Trump has revealed himself to be more comfortable with dividing people along lines of gender, class, race, ethnicity, creed, and color than uniting them. His instinctual affinity to dangerously stoke the flames of xenophobia and racism to his benefit has been consistent throughout his first year in office, often times instigating societal clashes and creating points of conflict at moments when we needed unity the most. He has used moments of tragedy for political gain, exposing a level of callousness and narcissism never before witnessed in the Oval Office. At every turn, the person most entrusted with the responsibility of uniting us and being a steward of good will and moral leadership has targeted our darker, baser instincts, choosing to rely on the most divisive elements of tribalism for personal gain instead of calling upon our better angels for the betterment of society.
Donald Trump is a man who consistently shuns common decency and respect in favor of disgraceful innuendo and the belittlement of political opponents, or really, anyone who chooses to disagree with him. He has provoked disunity and discord, diminished the rule of law capriciously, and attacked the very foundations of democracy in an all out effort to erode the ability for anyone to diminish his power. The President of the United States has attacked free speech, disrespected the rights of protesters and attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of their grievances, while engaging in the active diminution of the free press.
In vilifying the press he has sown seeds of doubt among his followers in one of the most important institutions of free society and democracy. He claims that anything he disagrees with or perceives as a slight against him is “fake news.” His infatuation with the term has emboldened like-minded despots throughout the world to dismiss the legitimate issues afflicting their countries, and in turn, further undermined our leadership role abroad. Yet, fault is not his alone.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue we can find disappointment as well. The complicity with which Congress has watched the evisceration of political norms and common decency, the onslaught on our democratic institutions, and the equivocation on our commitments to the world, our allies, and the environment has been outrageous. The lack of moral fortitude by our elected leaders has been disheartening. The double speak of self-serving politicians has been unsurprising but still disappointing. The withering of self-respecting Republicans, falling into line behind a man who has denigrated almost every value the Republican party has claimed to stand for, has been embarrassingly sad to watch for the party of Lincoln. After eleven months of controlling Congress and the White House Republicans finally passed a significant piece of legislation, but at what cost to the soul of the Republican Party and the Americans they represent? The final bill ended up being nothing more than a fiscally reckless giant give away to the rich funded by the poor, the net result being a giant transfer of wealth from those who need it most to those who deserve it least.
Yet even with the absolute incessant onslaught of absurdity emanating from the Oval Office, and the muted response and disheartening lack of courage to check the President by Congress, 2017 has also brought out the very best in America, given me hope, and reaffirmed by faith in this nation. In the face of everything Donald Trump has done to tear us apart, Americans have come together, reaffirmed our pledge to our nation and each other, and refused to allow this country we love to be destroyed by a man whose only allegiance is to himself.
Hate has been met with love, bigotry with tolerance, discrimination with inclusion, callousness with compassion, ignorance with understanding, lies with truth, and cynicism with hope. Starting on the very first day of his presidency, with the Women’s March, and almost every single day since – in protests big and small, in acts of defiance personal and public – President Trump has met a resistance that has refused to be sidelined or diminished, or go silently into history. Average citizens from every corner of this country have linked arms with perfect strangers, become politically active in ways they never have before, and confronted a man whose excessive bravado is only matched by his lack of conviction and decency – and they have done so not with hate for the man but instead with love for America and their fellow citizens.
As much as we dislike the man, we love our country even more.
For eight years we were blessed with a man who shared that love for the United States and an administration who gave us hope, who inspired us, who asked of us our trust that he would do the right thing, and maybe in retrospect that wasn’t the best thing after all. Maybe we were spoiled. Maybe we got complacent. Maybe we forgot what we were fighting for. Maybe we let our guard down. Maybe some of us didn’t vote because we just figured it would be okay. Maybe we found hope in the wrong place and trusted too much.
Today I still write with trust in America and hope for our future, but it’s no longer inspired by one man or dependent upon our other elected leaders. Today my trust and hope rises from the masses of resistance, from the millions of individuals across this country who have bound together, refused to back down, and said enough is enough. My hope springs from a reservoir of good will filled by those who have stood up for equality and kneeled down for justice, who have rejected hate and bigotry and have been killed by the hatred they protested against, who spoke up for the voiceless and defended the vulnerable, who have combatted false claims of fake news with the veracity of content that cannot be arbitrarily dismissed, resisted attacks upon our democracy and nevertheless persisted with dignity and grace and an unyielding commitment to that self-evident timeless proposition written into our founding documents that, “All (wo)men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
A lot of us may have started this year with despair, a seemingly all-encompassing dread that we just could not shake, but I assure you that I am ending 2017 with hope. This year we reaffirmed that our power, the power of the people, will always be stronger than the people in power, and in doing so, vindicated the eternal hope I have for America. All of you have proven over the course of this year that the old adage that there is nothing so wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with Americans still rings true. I believe in America because I believe in all of you. Today I write with hope for America and trust in Americans, for I know that we are no more bound by our past, than we are set free by our future. Onward to 2018!