The Trump Presidency. One Year In.

Donald Trump campaign event in Iowa, January 2016. Photo by: Evan Guest

Yesterday, President Trump said some awful things about Haitians and people from African countries. This isn’t the first time that I have glanced at Twitter or Facebook and sighed deeply, rolled my eyes, or felt sick by a headline that seems contrary to the values I hope my political leaders would adhere to. I bet it won’t be the last.

Many of us feel as if the country is becoming more divided and more racist, and like all we have left to look forward to is celebrating our enemies’ misfortunes, liberals and conservatives alike. This has actually been tested using psychological experiments; people get a chemical “feel good” high when they see politicians or supporters from a rival political party fail or be embarrassed. I couldn’t disagree more with Trump when he argues that the U.S. should not allow in people with dark skin from non-European countries, but I am honestly not surprised either. It is not just Trump. One of the many things that the U.S. has been truly exemplary at throughout its history is racism. But we can do better, and I believe we will do better in future.

If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself many times over the past year trying to interpret the meaning of the president’s words and actions. One day he supports moderate immigration policy and wants to allow a place for dreamers in our country; the next he makes racist statements towards people of color. One tweet unilaterally threatens world leaders with war in the Korean peninsula; the next assures our allies that we will work together to tackle a difficult problem. Is Trump play ten-dimensional chess? Is he a mushy conservative or a secret liberal? Does he have dementia or just a strong personality with very poor communication skills?

After one year, I feel as if I have my answer: Donald Trump is deeply unprepared and unable to execute the office of presidency in any effective manner. I think most Americans underestimate the degree of difficulty and knowledge required for such an undertaking. “Hiring” a president with no political experience is not so different from asking a pharmacist to perform your heart surgery. They may be able to list off the names of different cold medicines and fool you into believing that they know what they are talking about, but what you actually need is someone with the skills to perform the procedure. An imposter with a lab coat is left holding the scalpel.

In addition to really understanding the level of knowledge and experience President Trump has, we are now increasingly aware of his concerns, priorities, and leadership ability. It has become obvious that Trump is willing to lie, confuse, and disparage other politicians, his staff, and the American people in order achieve a desired outcome. He is deeply anxious regarding his own status and power, which distracts him from protecting and moving the country forward. He blames and deflects in place of accepting responsibility for any shortcomings. He is happy to disown and push down those he finds threatening. These characteristics are the definition of poor leadership.

Protesters marching in Minneapolis, February 2017. Photo by: Fibonacci Blue

Many supporters hoped for a president who would champion the “forgotten people” of America, which has most often referred to rural whites. While there have been symbolic efforts to support a struggling industrial and rural constituency, Trump’s actual policies have so far been dominated by a pro-rich, pro-big-business agenda driven by congressional Republicans, which does little to help those he claims to champion. Who is Donald Trump? He is a scared and overly-defensive man being crushed under the weight of this office. What does he stand for? Nothing. His policy positions are formless and irregular, blowing whichever way the wind takes them. All this is not to say that others are blameless. Politicians from both parties and those in media outlets should reflect on and revise how they have dealt with President Trump’s tactics, considering whether their actions have further inflamed tensions or are rooted in social concern and truth.

So far, I probably haven’t said much that many of my readers would disagree with. But in light of all this, what do we do?

Like many unfortunate circumstances in life, the only real way forward is a diligent and steady dedication to a better time and a better place. In other words, hard work. Here are three ways you can make a tangible difference in 2018.

First, work hard to educate yourself. It is difficult to underestimate the seriousness of fake news and misinformation campaigns. No matter your level of political interest or ideological positions, stop and ask how reliable your news is and whether it is merely playing to your emotions. Liberals are quick to jump on Fox New and Breitbart as partisan machines that mislead viewers, but over the past year in particular, CNN and MSNBC have often played a similar role for a different audience. News is not sports. Anyone can visit sites like AP News, BBC, or Reuters for a largely non-ideological description of current events. Don’t just throw a temper tantrum and cry fake news whenever you see something that you believe is politically slanted; we need well-informed citizens, not people intoxicated by partisanship who are so easily taken advantage of by foreign government agents, twitter bots, and media tycoons.

Second, we must work harder to participate in good politics. Politics…good? Yes. Unhappy with the President or Congress? Then vote! The 2018 midterms are fast approaching, during which every American will have the opportunity to vote for a new representative in Congress. Frustrated about how Congress works? Support and vote for someone with big ideas, who makes concrete promises, and who is willing to strike a balance between their convictions and getting something done. If Democrats take back the House, Trump’s ability to enact controversial legislations will grind to a halt. Even for staunch conservatives, you still have the ability to cast a ballot for a moral and principled conservative that can help keep the President in check. Do not buy into illegitimate voter fraud claims. Don’t become consumed by apathy. Go vote.

Third, we all need to work harder at respecting one another. Is it really worth hating half of America over a policy disagreement, an inflammatory statement, or a different set of priorities? This isn’t just someone else’s problem, it’s my problem, and it’s your problem too. Russia’s number one objective while interfering in the 2016 elections was to discredit the United States and sow discord among us. They did a great job, but now it’s time for us to begin to make our way back. Have serious disagreements with others? That’s fine, I do too. But I hope to be ready to listen to anyone no matter how different their background and try to understand why they believe what they believe and see where we can find some common ground. It’s the only real way forward. When was the last time someone changed their mind by you yelling at them or looking down on them? There are no silver bullets, just a steady commitment to a better future.

Making politics bearable again.