On Jan. 20, 2017, after Donald J. Trump had taken the oath of office, I watched the Obamas' helicopter take off, and wondered what on Earth the next four years would look like. From my seat at the west front of the Capitol, I heard the new president tell the nation, "We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything." And I had to wonder which would be worse: if Trump didn't keep his promise to supposedly "Make America Great Again," or — beginning with that border wall with Mexico — if he did.
We had seen enough of his irascible conduct during the campaigns to ask whether the brash businessman and game show star could sufficiently overcome his insecurities and tendencies for blaming, name-calling and self-aggrandizing to act presidential.
We didn't have to wonder long. The very next day, Trump was creating discord, accusing the media of misrepresenting the size of his inauguration attendance, which he insisted topped 1.5 million and dwarfed Barack Obama's. He objected to aerial photos that told a different story. The National Park Service ultimately settled that debate, releasing its photos from Trump's inauguration and both of Obama's. According to The Associated Press, "the 2009 Obama inaugural far outstripped the number of people who attended Trump's inauguration, contrary to Trump's repeated claims."
Who really cared anyway? Trump's term was just getting started, and the nation was his responsibility now. But the go-around foreshadowed the perils of this president's constant need to feed his ego.
The day after the inauguration, I walked among a very different crowd, some 26,000 people at the D.C. Women's March. That and some 600 satellite marches around the country were being billed as launching pads for a peaceful resistance to Trump. At the D.C. event, I heard feminist leader Gloria Steinem declare that if Trump forced all Muslims to register, an idea he had floated, "we will all register as Muslims." And California Sen. Kamala Harris, who could scarcely have imagined that today she'd be campaigning as vice president to former Vice President Joe Biden, said, "We've got the power." But she warned things would get harder before they got easier.
Indeed. Many people I know, including myself, have experienced these last four years as a prolonged trauma, made up of daily microaggressions from the White House's chief occupant. They come in his mean-spirited tweets, and his broader assaults on democracy, including the firings of those who've opposed his potentially illegal actions. Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for being ethical enough to recuse himself from a probe into whether Trump engaged in misconduct regarding Russia. He fired FBI chief James Comey, who reportedly had sought more money and staff from the Justice Department to investigate Trump campaign ties to Russia. He fired then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to enforce his travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. He fired former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was investigating Trump's Health and Human Services appointee, Tom Price.
Trump was ultimately impeached in the House of Representatives for trying to bribe Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden's son, but the Senate Republican majority stood by him, as it always did. And even after Russia was accused of tampering with the 2016 election and the FBI was investigating ties between Russia and his campaign, Trump gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak classified intelligence information he'd gotten from U.S. intelligence.
There was Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, the stripper to whom Trump's lawyer paid $130,000 after Trump won the GOP presidential nomination, to keep quiet about an affair they'd had. That lawyer, Michael Cohen, went to prison over it and has since said everything Trump tells Americans is a lie.
There's the constant war Trump wages with the press, calling it fake news media, even as his own tweets make baseless claims about mail-in balloting fraud. Trump, his reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee combined have spent at least $20 million filing lawsuits against mail balloting, as more voters are relying on it to stay safe from COVID. And plenty has been documented about Trump's abject failure to treat that pandemic seriously, resulting in the spiraling rates we're seeing now. That negligence has been echoed by Republican governors like Iowa's Kim Reynolds.
As unforgivable is the racial and ethnic hatred this president has given voice to with his rhetoric about immigrants and peaceful protesters as criminals and thugs, and some at a white supremacist rally as "very fine people." That, too, has had ripple effects here in Iowa. The very day after his election, a high school student in Keota was heard telling another, who was Latina, that she should go back to where she came from and was probably illegal, while yelling Trump's name. There were more racist incidents in 2017 involving Iowa high school sports teams with similar messages, one featuring a photo of Klan hoods, a Confederate battle flag and a burning cross.
FBI crime statistics showed violent hate crimes shot up to a 16-year high around the country while crimes against Muslims, no doubt inspired by Trump's order banning travel here from Muslim-majority countries, also jumped.
But amid this ugliness, some other statistics offer me hope: those reflecting the gender gap in presidential preferences. An average of the last five CNN "live interview" polls have had Biden up by 25 percentage points among women voters. Suburban women are conspicuously said to be abandoning Trump, and to be crucial to Biden. See, the promises that most matter now are those made by women at the marches who ignited a spark that Jan. 21, 2017, and have been stoking those flames of resistance ever since. And shortly, one of them might just be named the next vice president.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.(c)2020 Des Moines Register, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.