Looking out at Senator John McCain’s funeral service in Washington D.C. last week I couldn’t help but swell with pride. Here were his close friends, an articulate daughter, three former U.S. presidents, and an entire coterie of failed presidential candidates all brought together for one glorious purpose—to rake Donald J. Trump over the coals.
It turns out Donald Trump is a uniter more than a divider, even while calling neo-Nazis very fine people and promoting candidates who refer to African-Americans as monkeys.
There we all were—whether in person or electronically—reveling in the words of the great sage George W. Bush. Glad to see our old warmonger friend Dick Cheney. And there they all were, implicitly giving props to Al Gore’s long-running climate change campaign, looking beyond Bill Clinton’s eleventh hour pardons of dirty financier Marc Rich and his own cokehead brother, even cheering and laughing at the well-measured remarks of Obamacare’s daddy. It’s all water under the bridge when you know damn well any one of you has more good sense, historical knowledge, humility and decency in your pinky toe than the current commander-in-chief has in his entire orange head.
But when it comes to the unexpected ways in which Donald Trump has made America great again, the McCain Woodstock is just the tip of the iceberg. Trump has singlehandedly revived a sense of civic duty in countless millions who now stay current on political developments, sign petitions, donate to worthy causes, and when their Pilates schedule allows march in protests. Hundreds of women, Muslims, and people of color have been inspired to run for public office against all rational odds and in spite of lack of funds. Students across the nation are champing at the bit to reach voting age and now see themselves as an integral part of America’s future rather than future victims of an indifferent government. Thank you, Mr. Trump.
California has passed a bill to produce 100 percent of its electricity using renewable energy sources by 2045. States across the country have stepped up their own efforts to fight poverty, clean up the environment, and reduce homelessness. Dozens of cities have refused to assist in the capricious federal roundup of law-abiding undocumented immigrants. As a nation we have immersed ourselves once again in the words of a Constitution which envisioned strength and diversity through states’ and local rights. Thank you, Mr. Trump.
A healthy nostalgia has developed—not so much for flappers, or convertibles, or disco—but for any year we didn’t have a thin-skinned, self-absorbed megalomaniac tweeting malapropisms out of the West Wing. For any year championship athletes accepted invitations to the White House. For any year the president’s real business was the affairs of the nation rather than a thousand and one side deals and licensing agreements. For any year the president didn’t threaten journalists, stir up hateful mobs, or rip babies from the arms of their parents. Thank you, Mr. Trump.
We have found a new appreciation for legitimate progressive-vs.-conservative political debates. With the glee of a returning political science professor following a restful but unproductive sabbatical, we look forward to arguing the proper balance between state control and free markets, between religious freedom and religious oppression, between low taxes and budget surpluses, between porous borders and insufficient foreign labor. These discussions were always contentious but were worth having when the man occupying the Oval Office actually understood them. Thank you, Mr. Trump.
Most importantly, we have undergone a critical stress test and come out with a beating heart. It wasn’t pleasant learning over 40 percent of the populace supports authoritarian goals, undermining the free press, dismissal of science, and toxic nativism, but like a contestant on the show Cheaters we needed to know. It’s been a painful look under the hood, but without it our engine would have exploded in the middle of the road instead of simply overheating in the driveway. There are millions of people hurting in this country, and the business-as-usual political system in the United States had wrongly counted them out. We know who you are now and can at least begin developing a better response than xenophobia, demagoguery, bald-faced lies, and social media bullying.
You were a useful transitional figure, Mr. Trump. That is not lost on us. More than just a useful idiot for Vladimir Putin, you were a warning signal for complacent Americans drugged up on video games and 401(k)s. You were a large tank of water into which we stuck a radial tire and found all the leaks. You hacked our system and readied us for more skillful hackers down the line. You were a vaccine against 21 century viruses that perhaps were destined one day to wipe us out entirely.
And now your days are numbered, even though we don’t know what that number is. In the most counterintuitive manner conceivable you accomplished what you set out to accomplish. Post-Trump America will be better, smarter, more empathetic and most of all less cavalier about democracy than Pre-Trump America. Your head won’t be added to Mount Rushmore, but feel free to stick it on any of your buildings not foreclosed or sold at auction.
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