The day has finally come. The long nightmare of the Trump presidency has ended, although the damage he has done will linger. For progressives, his policies were anathema: his deregulation of environmental protections; his disastrous immigration plan (or non-plan), highlighted by the separation of families at our southern border; his “America First” strategy on the world stage that jeopardized our relationships with allies and emboldened our adversaries; his ambivalence towards nativism and his faux law-and-order claims that were ultimately exposed in the insurrection at the Capitol; his calamitous abdication of responsibilities in handling the coronavirus pandemic all mark him as destined to be remembered as the worst President in US history. These things will take years—perhaps decades—to undo.
But his most lasting legacy, and his greatest threat to future generations of Americans, has been the attitude of arrogance, greed and self-centeredness with which he served. In a time of hyper-partisanship, Donald Trump—while not inventing racist rhetoric or egocentric rule–gave sanction to these qualities at the very highest levels of government, thereby giving permission to the rest of us to bruise and batter each other, especially those who differ by race, religion, gender identity or class. And far too many of us were willing followers.
And now it is our turn. It is not a time to gloat, but a time to move together in unity with imagination, dedication, selflessness and humility. The word “our” refers not simply to supporters of the newly inaugurated President and Vice President, nor to Democrats, nor to liberals or “coastal elites,” but to those Americans everywhere who believe in kindness and decency, honor and integrity, justice and fairness for all; to those who have a special place in their hearts for marginalized and under-represented peoples and to those who value competence in government. And it pays homage to the 400,000 lives lost during the pandemic as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris did as their first public act on Inauguration Eve during the Memorial Service at the Lincoln Memorial.
Yes, it is “our turn” to celebrate the departure of a venal and vindictive president, and to rejoice in the enduring strength and resilience of our country. But it is also our turn to assume personal responsibility. The goodness that we seek in governance must be practiced by each of us at every level and in every sector of our society. And, we must begin this effort among our most intimate relationships—with family, friends and close colleagues—and build to systemic justice and inclusion.
How we treat one another will go a long way in turning our country toward the “more perfect union” we claim to want to be. As the new administration dawns and the transfer of power is secure, each of us must hold ourselves accountable to live out the ideals, still too often unrealized, at our nation’s founding.