For some reason, the Trump inauguration didn’t really register as much for me emotionally as I thought it would.
I thought it would be many of the same things I felt on Election Day: anger, grief, disappointment, hopelessness, despair, frustration…
But I don’t feel that. In fact, ever since the election, I’ve felt increasingly small amounts of that to the point where now, I feel an almost-strange sense of peace.
If you have even a slight sense of my proclivities, you know that there isn’t much goodwill in me towards this administration. And when it comes to the policies this administration is attempting to implement, I’m as ready to rip out my hair as the next guy. But the general sense of impending doom has left me.
Because really, what did we expect?
In its history and at its heart today, America is still the same white-supremacist empire that we’ve always known. It’s the country that committed genocide against indigenous peoples, bought and sold and tortured slaves, colonized countries, fought jingoistic wars, raped and massacred civilians, brutalized protesters, mistreated workers (even children), subjugated minorities, toppled other countries’ democratically elected leaders, propped up other countries’ brutal tyrants, bombed other countries indiscriminately, operated concentration camps, given syphilis to healthy people as part of secret human medical experiments (feel free to Google any of these if you dare)… need I go on?
And sure, we are not still doing all of these things anymore (although the continuity of some of these things should very much alarm you), but even the things in that list that we have ceased to do are still in our (sometimes very recent) past, and it’s not a past that we can simply pretend does not exist.
So why are we surprised when it comes back?
And the point of this is not to say that we should set low expectations for America. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging that Trump is not necessarily as much an anomaly as we think, and that he is actually very much part of a regrettably dark undercurrent within the American cultural milieu that has been with us before this country was founded.
Trump’s rise should be met not with shock, but with at best a knowing, sorrowful shame. Racism, bigotry, arrogant sense of endless empire — these are not things that we are proud of, but are things that are part of our American DNA. They’re part of an undercurrent that will, to what is supposed to be the shock of nobody, rise up in a wave of reactionary fury.
To feel bad, then, because we expected the country to be better, somewhat misses the point.
It is unreasonable to expect this country to somehow just get better on its own, but it sure is tempting. The admittedly great progress this country has made combined with the ever-pervasive narrative of American exceptionalism have conjured up in our minds an image of a country that, while not perfect, is on a purposeful, perpetually forward and inevitable path of improvement towards eventual perfection — a country that will somehow just naturally progress towards a more perfect union.
Which is absurd.
The simple nature of inertia means that things don’t just start moving on their own. What is natural is for things to remain as they are. America doesn’t just naturally get better. This country began as a white-supremacist plutocracy, and what would have been natural would be for it to remain that way. Everything else takes effort.
Before there was Emancipation and the 13th Amendment, there were brutal suppressions of slave revolts. Before the Civil Rights movement succeeded, Reconstruction failed. When Dr. King said that “the arc of the moral universe… bends towards justice,” he didn’t mean that it would bend on its own, without the tireless work and struggle of people like him.
So there is no reason to be disappointed- – there was never some inherent inevitability to us electing our first female president last November. American progress is not an inevitable linear narrative; it’s a story of struggle against oppression.
And that oppression is looming on the horizon, and it will bring with it a dreadful four years to come. If the past few months (and years, for that matter) have been any indication, the Trump administration will implement policies that will make life for women, immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities, queer people and poor people a living hell.
And that sense of doom is much harder to control or remove; unlike our malleable expectations and disappointment, the ascendancy of this new president is no longer within our control.
However, if there is one thing that could alleviate our sense of doom, it must be the knowledge that if this administration plans to injure us, it will have to go through us first — the knowledge that we will resist at every turn, to fight for ourselves and our fellow Americans.
A more perfect union is not an inevitability, but neither should it be our defeat. The path before us is hard, but freedom is never easily gained. Those who came before us and our brothers and sisters around the world have fought and struggled for their freedom. Now, perhaps it’s time for us to earn ours, too, and I know we can.
Day 6 of 1461. Resist.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.