Columnist Miliann Kang: Make Trump presidency better than the man

  • The new @POTUS Twitter account for President Donald Trump is shown in this frame grab, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. The technological transition came just as Trump took the oath Friday, giving him a clean digital slate. The White House’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts were quickly scrubbed and rebranded. It’s the first time social media accounts have been a part of the transition.  AP PHOTO

Published: 1/23/2017 12:10:19 AM

We cannot keep fueling the spectacle that was the Trump candidacy. We must make the Trump presidency better than Trump the man.

What the Trump presidency means is TBD — to be determined. But for many of us, TBD already means too bad for democracy. Or Trump begets demagoguery. Or this bullying deepens.

I started off thinking I would write something funny, but couldn’t keep it up. Even Al Franken, U.S. senator from Minnesota, former SNL star, calls the current political moment “de-humorizing.” He points out the obvious and ominous fact — that Trump never laughs.

This is not good.

In the days and weeks after the election, I communicated with friends and colleagues from Turkey, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, South Korea. The common, disconcerting message was, “Welcome to the rest of the world. Now you are just one more country with a potentially crazy leader. Now you will know what it means to live in fear of your government.”

So we are no longer the American exception, or rather, we can no longer pretend to be exceptional. Many of us have known this for a long time, from Standing Rock to Black Lives Matter to 11 million undocumented immigrants living under threat of deportation.

Now, many more of us are forced to live in this unsettling state of plasticity — where not just our democracy but our humanity feels at risk.

It is difficult to say this without turning it into pablum, but the hardest times in our individual and national lives are truly the greatest gifts. Grief opens up our pores, fear rewires our synapses, insecurity rearranges our DNA. In this place, wondrous and horrendous things can happen. I think we are in store for a lot of both. It scares me. I want this fear to clean out my sockets, I want it to go away and leave me alone.

Yet now is not the time to turn off the news, to tune out from ourselves or each other. This is going to be hard, really hard, but we can do this. We have to.

I was an ambivalent Hillary supporter, but in the end, I was genuinely won over by her. And much as I knew that just electing a woman president wouldn’t get rid of sexism or crash the glass ceiling for all women, I thought it would be a huge step forward. Just like electing Obama president did not get rid of racism but did move this country to new ground.

In the end, the grief was not just about Hillary not getting elected – although that alone felt like a substantial kick in the gut — but that someone who so openly disdains women, blacks, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, queer people, got elected instead.

I have been having conversations with neighbors, friends, students, colleagues about possible ways we can act. Know your rights and the rights of others. Sign up to welcome the Syrian refugee families coming to western Massachusetts.

Take an active bystander training, so that when a woman in a hijab is accosted in front of us, we won’t stand there doing nothing — like those on an NYC subway platform who stood and did nothing. Rather than judging them, we all have to admit that they could have been us. Good people who did nothing when we should have done something.

We cannot keep fueling the spectacle that was the Trump candidacy. We must make the Trump presidency better than Trump the man.

We are going to have to dig deep, deeper than we want to, deeper than we think we are capable of, if we are to get through this. “One nation, with liberty and justice for all”: these cannot be just words we look back on with longing and regret.

America TBD. Think before dismantling. To boldly demonstrate. To believe deeply.

That we, too, be determined.

Miliann Kang, of Northampton, is an associate professor of women, gender, sexuality studies and director of diversity advancements for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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