Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
I can finally feel myself beginning to unclench my jaw, drop my shoulders, and exhale.
The past four years have felt like a lifetime. That 2016 satirical newspaper front page imagining how bad a Donald Trump presidency would be? It radically underestimated things. The Boston Globe predicted mass deportations, riots in the streets, markets sinking in a trade war, and US soldiers refusing orders to kill ISIS families.
We got the deportations and riots plus migrant children ripped from their parents’ arms and put in cages, possibly never to see their mothers and fathers again; the end of asylum as we knew it; a catastrophic drop in refugee resettlements; the xenophobic ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries.
The markets didn’t crash because of a trade war; instead, job losses reached their highest since the Great Depression thanks to the Trump administration’s stunning mishandling of a global pandemic that in less than a year has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
US soldiers weren’t ordered to murder the family members of ISIS militants; instead, the President pardoned convicted war criminals, including four Blackwater mercenaries who were found guilty in federal court for their role in the massacre of 14 unarmed civilians in Baghdad, including two little boys.
Riots in the street? Worse – Trump brought us an insurrection at the US Capitol. And then, having reinstated the federal death penalty in 2019 after a nearly two-decade pause, he spent his final weeks in office on a killing spree, executing a staggering number of federal death row inmates – in all, 13 in six months; the most on any president’s watch in 120 years – just because he could.
Americans who care about human rights and basic decency found our psyches and our souls pummeled by this barrage of unfathomable cruelty and wrongdoing – in a near-constant state of emotional distress, vacillating from fear to rage to despair. Then we saw the President lie endlessly and simply refuse to take responsibility for any bad act or mistake. It was crazy-making to be told, again and again, that what you saw with your own eyes wasn’t happening.
Donald Trump kept many of us agitated and insecure as no president in living memory had. He released torrents of tweets – with their random capitalizations and exclamation points – instead of making policy statements or addressing the nation in the careful (and edited) ways of normal presidents.
He presided over a revolving roster of senior level advisors and Cabinet members of varying levels of competence and capability. But he also surrounded himself with grifters, criminals, toadies, quacks and a number of men who seemed pulled straight out of a bad mob movie, each less qualified to serve than the last, and better described as “characters” in his “show” than legitimate professionals.
He seemed to make significant decisions based on what he saw on Fox News, or under the advisement of his eldest daughter and her husband, both or whom he named as official presidential advisors despite their complete lack of experience in politics, and the fact that both have spent most of their adult lives working only for their own families.
Remember when the President’s lawyer and fixer paid off a porn star to cover up the President’s alleged affair, and then went to federal prison for fraud and campaign finance violations, scandals that were quickly eclipsed by other, worse scandals in the Trump administration … and then rapidly forgotten?
It often all felt unreal, and it would have all been very funny if Trump hadn’t also had all the power America gives to its executive, including the nuclear codes.
So many Americans are living with a kind of collective trauma after this presidency. And we have no idea when or whether the echo of Trump will fade – we have already seen the damage and, on Jan. 6 in particular, the real danger he has injected into our country.
But while the psychological, cultural, and political ramifications of his administration will linger, the man himself is out of the White House – and so is his entire unfunny clown show. That brings a lot of relief, and the chance to begin a national recovery.
I was not a Biden supporter in the Democratic primary; frankly, he was pretty far down my list of ideal candidates. But with Biden as the president-elect and Kamala Harris as the incoming vice president, I’m surprised at how enthusiastic I feel.
They are promising to swiftly undo many of the worst of Trump’s acts, from increasing refugee resettlement and repairing our asylum program to lifting deadly and misogynist rules that make it harder for women in developing nations to get contraception and basic reproductive health care.
On a more basic level, they won’t be evil and embarrassing buffoons making a mockery of America on the international stage and damaging all that is good about our nation here at home.
Joe Biden does not have extraordinary magical powers or radical ambitions; he will not revolutionize the nation overnight, and he couldn’t even if he wanted to. But as his inauguration gets closer by the minute, an unfamiliar feeling grows ever larger: Hope.
With Biden and Harris in the White House, we will see restoration, and then we can press forward for progress and betterment – a much more gratifying position to be in than in a defensive crouch, trying to fend off the very worst attacks.
The news out of the White House will be slower, and almost certainly more boring. Adults will be in charge again – too late for so many, but hopefully in time to speed up a vaccine roll-out and save thousands of lives. Simple values like honesty, accountability, decency and empathy will return.
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America under Biden will be a place where progressives can push for what we want, and achieve some of what we need. It will be a place where all Americans are valued, not just those who voted for our new president. It will be a place where we can fight in forward motion.
This feeling – hope – is a sweet and powerful thing.