We asked our readers to reflect on the Trump years: What did they learn during his presidency?
Many responses came from people who said they’ve had their faith in democracy shaken. They learned how important the position of the presidency is and how much influence and power comes with it.
Some said they realized how racist our country is. How much our religious institutions can influence us. How little facts matter. How many people are disassociated from reality. How our education system has failed to equip people to think critically.
People were concerned with how divided our country is and how the media exacerbates those tensions.
Yet some found solace in the fact that our country survived the past four years, and they learned the importance of speaking out about their beliefs and trying to educate people.
A selection of the responses we received, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
I learned that our Constitution depends on the good faith of those who have been elected to office to seriously defend and obey it — without that, it is extremely vulnerable, and therefore, are we.
I learned that the shadows and unacknowledged sins of racism and bigotry and racially motivated violence since colonial times have allowed a recalcitrant danger to grow in our country, and it will take courageous and sustained collective efforts to UNDO it, not simply talk about it.
I learned that revolution is a powerful force, and that it takes continual action to make it work for the greater good.
I learned that we desperately need to protect our RIGHT to healthcare before it gets even more inaccessible — a horrific embarrassment and shame for our country.
And the power of the Senate majority leader is dangerous.
— Sarah De la Garza, Phoenix
Unfortunately, I learned that grace and honesty are more important in government than ever.
I learned that the type of person one is matters in the presidency.
I learned that America has a long way to go to make “freedom and justice for all.”
— Colleen Martin, San Luis Obispo County
What did I learn? That America is truly on the edge of losing its long-standing position of trust in the world and that this could take place in a short four years under the influence of one man. Putting “America First,” he damaged our relationships with our allies and made us a laughingstock of most of the world, giving credence to China’s claim that we are a nation in decline.
A NATION DIVIDED: Amazed that he ever won the presidency, truly amazed he came so close to winning a second term. Thankful I live in California and that [Joe] Biden is my president. He is the best man to heal the nation and [Vice President-elect Kamala] Harris is a great asset.
Frightened about the pollution to the American psyche that has clearly divided the nation in to camps that don’t listen to each other.
THAT IT IS INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO REACH OUT: He has severely damaged our belief in a free press. Making Fox News his source of information, he worked to discredit all other new sources. Is there no longer a news source we all look to as reliable, honest and trustworthy? Now people only listen to news sources that parrot their options.
HE WON’T FOLLOW THE NORMS OF A RETIRING PRESIDENT: Very concerned about the large number of votes he received in this election and his “cult-like following.” He is likely to continue to influence politics through his base for years to come. Angered by his refusal to admit to defeat, this can only diminish the world’s trust in the U.S.A. as a free democracy.
The only president I have ever hated. The stress he added to my life greatly diminished my joy in living. I was actively planning on leaving the U.S. if he won a second term, as were a number of my friends.
— Deane Robert, Temecula
1. It is indeed possible for America to fall into the same trap as pre-World War II Germany.
2. Our diversity allows for us to hold extremely different opinions about what our country is and what is the proper role of government.
3. It didn’t kill me to deregister as a Republican despite coming from several generations of staunch Republicans.
4. Friends who I believed thought like me don’t.
5. There is a sharp distinction between those of us who have a “we’re all in this together” attitude and those who believe that it’s “me or them.”
6. My nonwhite friends give me more credit than I’m worth in rating my level of bigotry.
7. More evidence that acting in one’s best interest is not the same as acting in one’s selfish interest.
8. That educated, rational people can latch on to a single positive aspect of someone and use that as justification to ignore all other aspects.
9. If George Washington’s “great experiment” can survive four years of Trump, we have a solid citizenry and a solid democracy.
—DL Hilton, Orange County
These five things:
1) That we are now fully living in the post-information age, where factual truth has little power and disinformation is readily weaponized as “emotional truth.”
2) That our digital media environment is literally deadly toxic — not only by aggressively promoting divisiveness and hate and undermining public health policy, but also directly causing unprecedented epidemics of depression, anxiety and suicidality among the generations of youth who have grown up holding phones.
3) That democracy and U.S. institutions are far more fragile than I had ever imagined. Dark money and corporate interests now have a political stranglehold on all three branches of government and there is no longer an honest system of checks and balances.
4) That “traditional media” like newspapers and broadcast channels are ill-equipped to grapple with any of this. Trump or no Trump, this toxic soup will likely get worse.
5) And finally, that maybe Donald Trump will unintentionally Make America Great Again, waking up a new generation of voters and activists who recognize these things as an existential threat.”
—Mark Schubb, Santa Monica
I was amazed at how many intelligent people could buy in to his unmitigated lying. My own sons even, who I know to be intelligent and kind-hearted. I think that the greatest talent of the Republicans has been to demonize everyone who does not believe as they do, especially their Democratic opponents. While claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and following such a man as Donald Trump, they have proved to me that the only thing they want is what they want and are willing to see other people die to get it. All the while saying that they value life.
—Becky Weber, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
I learned that people are more reluctant to change than I thought. I learned that not many people had been a part of our democracy but became involved when they felt they could be heard; unfortunately, a lot of those people it seems are repeating what they’re told rather than investigating issues fully and forming independent stances on issues. I learned that people are compassion-fatigued, not able or willing to empathize with others who are different; these people have always been around but now they feel the 1st Amendment allows them to be callous and mean. Finally, I’ve learned that some people really do believe their lives matter more than others.
—Carin Hennessey, Nevada
As a senior person of color and having grown up in western Pennsylvania “coal country,” the deeply seated, thinly veiled, toxic brew of pseudo-Christian conservatism/political “mask/hood” is finally rent and completely exposed for the entire world to see a large contingency of the U.S.A. and what people of color have lived and endured every day of our lives, moreover centuries. We’ve known and know many Trumps. The true magnitude has not been known until now — “the time of Trump” — and it is certainly revealing and deeply saddening. Hope remains nevertheless in the young and enlightened who are challenging the perpetuation of U.S.A.’s original sin and the depravity of “white global manifest destiny” to rule the world at any cost. What I learned is this active, continual, engaged vigilance at all levels is required to ensure democracy survives and flourishes.
—Alana Matthews, Virginia
That the United States still has a lot of work to do on race relations. That lying from the most powerful office in the world is extremely dangerous. That the man/woman holding this office has to surround themselves with extremely competent people who are willing to work with and find common ground with folks from ALL parties. We are the United States of America, not just red/blue states. We can NOT put any party before country. GOD bless ALL of us, we are ALL Americans.
—Eric Locklear, South Carolina
I have always believed that modern democracies such as Canada, Britain, France and the U.S.A. were immune to the sort of personality cult and hateful propaganda that can transform a legitimate government into an authoritarian regime which designates certain groups (ethnic, linguistic, etc.) as enemies of the state, and which invokes security matters as justifications for destroying the state, cutting freedoms and sending militias to break up legitimate demonstrations and shoot citizens.
The Trump presidency has shattered that belief. A small additional percentage of the vote is all it would have taken for this deranged man to obtain a second mandate.
One can only imagine the profound damage he would have inflicted on the country, its institutions and civic liberties for which generations have fought bravely.
Tapping into the frustration, disenchantment and anger which inhabit a lot of citizens is a catastrophic and shameful practice that elevated sociopaths to power in many countries during the 20th century, notably in Germany and Italy, and Trump has shown us that it can happen anywhere, even in a country celebrated as the beacon of democracy.
The anger, disenchantment and frustration that propelled this narcissistic personality to the head of the state is not going anywhere. It is still there for another wannabe tyrant to exploit.
A very disturbing sentiment of fear has replaced my belief in the invulnerability of democracy. Suddenly, the future just got a lot darker.
—Andre Morency, Quebec City, Canada
I’ve learned that a businessman … a true patriot, can run this country with our best interests at heart! He helped so many Americans and for that, I will always be grateful (have respected him for years and voted for the first time when I found out he was running for president in 2016)!
—Brenda Brannen, Macon, Ga.
Before Trump’s presidency, I was inclined to take America’s noble democratic experiment for granted. But since he took office, I have become ever more aware of its fragility. I now firmly believe that our cherished democracy’s survival is contingent on an elusive prerequisite: Constant, well-focused political oversight from a clear majority of citizens who favor facts over fiction, and critical thinking over groupthink. I fear that Trump’s ouster does not so much evince that prerequisite as it does the pandemic’s fluky effect.
—Edward Alston, Santa Maria, Calif.
I learned that words matter.
What a person in power says, has an effect on others.
When a person in power distorts the truth, it affects what others think.
I learned that I am tired of the Trump soap opera.
I can relax and focus on affecting others positively.
—Jose Pena, West Hollywood