The Trump era finally drew to an exhausting close this week. So why does it still feel like the other shoe has yet to drop?
I’m not alone in this. Everyone I talked to this week, even after the Biden-Harris inauguration ceremony, mentioned they’ve been in a state of hypervigilance, waiting for one more outburst or incitement, additional violence or other tragedy.
We can chalk this feeling up to the collective trauma of the past four years and the past few weeks. Our twice-impeached 45th president wasn’t very good at his job — in fact, he was downright awful at it — but he was the master of chaos, rage and unpredictability. He excelled at stirring people up into volatile furors, much like those he exhibited himself. Every day of his term — and well before it, in the election and his pre-political public life — seemed to bring new explosions and repercussions, culminating in the deadly insurgency of Jan. 6.
Sure, the former president is keeping pretty quiet now. Twitter may, in the moments after the Capitol attack, have removed the tool he used most readily to express his anger, but can we truly expect a bloviating blowhard with a penchant for scorched-Earth revenge to keep quiet for long? Or the right-wing media to stop enabling him and his followers?
Even if he keeps his big mouth shut, we’ll still hear him echoing through our lives and media in one way or another.
For one thing, the true scope of the damage the Trump administration did to the environment may take years to understand. It hollowed out the government of many key scientists, career service employees, prosecutors, inspectors, auditors and others who worked to understand climate change, uncover and prosecute pollution, respond to cases of environmental injustice, and protect endangered species.
And as those jobs vanished, corporations ran amok. Oil and gas industries had free rein to pollute, kill birds, develop record numbers of new wells, and emit greenhouse gases and other forms of pollution. Sometimes this was newly legal, thanks to Trump’s deregulatory agenda. Other times it slipped under the radar because no one was manning the monitoring apparatus of the federal government.
President Biden will no doubt restore and refill many of these positions, and work will continue — albeit after a tragic four-year gap — but the outgoing administration also left many loyalists embedded in positions with civil-servant protections, meaning they could be hard to root out. How much damage will they continue to do while they’re on the job?
We’ll have to ask the same question of certain elected officials in the House and Senate — like the 197 congressional representatives who voted in the disgraced president’s favor during Jan. 13th’s impeachment and sought to delegitimize the 2020 election.
And then there are the people outside the government: the right-wing disinformation machines; the anti-government militias, domestic terrorists and other extremists who have promised further attacks; the white supremacists who thrived under Trump; the climate change deniers who gained new platforms; the people brainwashed by QAnon and other conspiracies; and many others.
And all of this will feed into MAGA movement that remains especially strong with state and local elected officials, who took control of many legislatures in the 2020 election.
Quite frankly, I look forward to the day when I no longer need to write about Donald J. Trump, his minions, his enablers, his damage or his brood. Tragically, I doubt that day will come anytime soon.
But the inauguration changed that a bit, replacing some of my anxiety with the opportunity for deep, relaxing breaths. Grownups are back in charge, and with this much-needed change comes the opportunities for rapid progress on the environment, on justice, on the pandemic, and on so many other fronts.
It’s already started. On his first day, newly inaugurated President Biden signed orders to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, stop border-wall construction, and review dozens of Trump-era efforts that hurt the climate, people’s health, and our lands and wildlife.
And the plans (or promises) for the administration’s first 100 days include even more, such as organizing a world climate summit to address shipping and aviation emissions and pressuring China to end its coal subsidies.
Those efforts will continue. They may not be smooth, the pandemic may delay or change a lot of it, and anything could be interrupted by further Trump explosions — literal or metaphoric.
But we’ll weather the aftershocks. And with luck and hard work we’ll repair the damage, rebuild, and move forward.
For more than 81 million people voted for the Biden-Harris administration, often putting their lives at risk during a pandemic to make it to the ballot box. That’s a lot of feet, and those collective shoes — perhaps enhanced by President Biden’s call for unity — will have more staying power than anything Trump and his successors have left to drop on us.
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