Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
As America approaches the end of Donald Trump’s first year as President, one point on which the entire country can agree is that this has been a year like no other in the nation’s history. If the polls are to be believed, most of us see Trump’s presidency so far as a slow-motion calamity.
And yet, not every development in the last year has been negative. The Trump presidency has energized the country and given it a new mood of seriousness.
It has reminded America about its priorities and caused its people to ponder important questions. Even if he has done so unwittingly, we can thank President Trump for bringing some exciting changes to the country. Here are five of Donald Trump’s greatest unintentional accomplishments.
Sparking the women’s movement and a conversation about decency
It all started before he came into office, when voters heard and saw how he talked to and about women. We heard the women who accused him of sexual harassment; we saw how he disparaged women on the campaign trail; and we saw that he became President in spite of it all.
On the day after the inauguration, millions of women took to the streets around the world to make it clear that women would not sit back and watch Trump’s style become the new normal. The women’s march became likely the largest single day demonstration in US history.
And that was just the beginning. As the backlash against sexism has continued, courageous women revealed the extent of abuse they have experienced in all facets of life. The #MeToo movement took down some of the most prominent figures in journalism, entertainment, politics and elsewhere. And the tsunami against abuse is still raging.
It’s no wonder “feminism” is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, its most searched term.
It’s no wonder “The Silence Breakers” are Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
And the best is still to come.
The next elections should bring a tide of women to public office. EMILY’s List, the group that helps women political candidates, reportedly says last year it had heard from about 1,000 women interested in getting its support. This year, the number skyrocketed to 22,000
Trump’s presidency has electrified the country, creating a sense of energy and urgency unlike anything the United States had seen in at least a generation. Today, even people who routinely muttered, “I hate politics,” and stayed uninvolved, are bristling with political thoughts and following the latest news about Trump’s legislative agenda, the Russia investigation, and matters as obscure as the gap between what Trump says and what his secretary of state argues.
Americans have discovered that political apathy is a luxury better left to people living in countries where they trust their government.
The disastrous cost of apathy became clear after the 2016 election, when far more people stayed home than voted for either Trump or Clinton. As a consequence, the US has become a nation of political junkies and disciplined voters. When Alabamians voted in a special election pitting Trump’s candidate, Roy Moore, against Democrat Doug Jones, turnout surpassed all expectations. In Virginia’s recent elections, turnout was the highest in 20 years for a gubernatorial race.
Raising the question: What really makes America great?
As soon as he took office, Trump started trying to enact the agenda that he claimed would Make America Great Again. But to millions of Americans, Trump’s agenda and rhetoric seemed to highlight precisely the opposite.
Trump forced many who had not given the matter much thought to consider what exactly it is that makes America great: its pursuit of ideals such as respect for the individual, for a free press, for equality; and the sacred notion of “rule of law,” that no individual, however powerful, stands above the law or should wield his power to interfere with justice.
Trump’s attacks on the media, on Muslims, his appalling failure to clearly condemn Neo-Nazis, his repeated use of ethnic slurs, and his relentlessly divisive rhetoric reminded us of America’s most important qualities. Many Americans fear their Democracy is threatened – and feel determined to defend it.
Trump helped us understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is love for one’s country. It compels us to protect those characteristics that make it worth loving, and to strive to bring the country closer to its ideals. Nationalism, on the other hand, is what Trump preaches in his MAGA creed. It is an attitude of superiority, tainted with notions of ethnic and religious supremacy.
When historians look back at the Trump era, they will note that Trump spawned a golden age of journalism. Even as Trump declared war on the media, casting doubt on any piece of news he found unflattering by calling it “fake news,” serious journalists went to work with more determination than ever.
Sure, journalists made mistakes, and when discovered, they were promptly corrected. That stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s avalanche of lies. By The New York Times’ count, Trump has told nearly six times as many falsehoods in 10 months than Barack Obama told in eight years as President. Trump succeeded in confusing the public and blurring reality. It was all in keeping with his gaslighting technique. But the reality-based media fought back with facts and with in-depth reporting that brought Americans history-changing truths.
It wasn’t just the television news networks but also the newspapers, which had seemed fated to die in the electronic age. The New York Times and The Washington Post engaged in a friendly-competition war that benefited the country, scoring major scoops, from the multiple and repeatedly-lied-about meetings between Trump campaign officials and Kremlin-linked figures to the sexual transgressions of powerful men.
As Trump kept attacking the media, Americans flocked to its most prestigious names, willingly paying for credible information. The Washington Post saw digital subscriptions spike to more than a million, and the Times topped 2.5 million – both explosive increases from the pre-Trump days.
Giving satire a shot in the arm
While Trump made Americans more serious, he also made comedians much funnier. Political humor blossomed like never before. Observers noted that the President himself hardly ever laughs unless in the company of adoring crowds, with his sense of humor limited to mocks and insults.
But for professional humorists, Trump was a godsend. The bittersweet cracks propelled the ruthlessly brilliant Stephen Colbert to new levels of hilarity, and the more Trump-centered his jokes became, the higher his ratings climbed.
“Saturday Night Live” also got its groove back with Trump-theme jokes, reaching its highest ratings in decades. Then there was Samantha Bee, also on fire, giving uproarious voice to the Trump-fueled rage of women, also garnering sky-rocketing ratings. People, by the millions, laughed along.
So, you see, it hasn’t all been bad. Perhaps Vladimir Putin is right when he says Trump has made significant achievements. Although, this is probably not what Putin or what Trump has in mind when he falsely claims he has accomplished more than any of his predecessors.
It’s more along the lines of Colbert’s comment after Roy Moore lost the election in Alabama, when he said, “I’m a little shaky … due to a condition my doctor calls ‘hope.’”
These are at least five achievements from the Trump administration that can give Americans that same hope.