I have several things to thank you for, President Trump. This note of thanks is not sarcastic. It is sincere.
Until Saturday, January 21, I had never been to our nation’s capital. But because of you, I drove across four states to join hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children for the Women’s March on Washington. All of the famous landmarks I’d only experienced through media my entire life – the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument – were there, nestled in the multitudes as though the people were the buffer between these symbolic structures and what is to come. Thank you for bringing us all together. It was beautiful.
On the day after you won the election, I began to wear black. I was not the only one. But the period of mourning officially ended that Saturday in a very big way. People who attended protest marches across the U.S. and across the world would almost certainly agree that this was one of the most inspiring events of their lives. To see grandmothers, mothers, and daughters marching together; to see people of all walks of life chanting in solidarity; and to hear the jubilation and enthusiasm in the raised voices of the people was both stirring and humbling.
Through your negative example, you helped to generate the kind of joyful seriousness I have long argued should become the core feature of American politics.
And while your candidacy seemed to function like a centrifuge during campaign season, pulling apart the establishment of both parties and fragmenting the electorate into strange new factions, I would argue that your presidency has already succeeded in uniting disparate groups who couldn’t quite find the cohesion they sought until now. It is strange indeed that Barack Obama, a man of great diplomacy, intelligence, and kindness, did not unite the nation while you, a man of provocation and divisiveness, have managed already to unite the Left, to embolden fair-minded journalists, and to help the G.O.P. and Democrats recognize that working together might not be so bad after all, all on your first full day in office.
You have managed to unify people who support reproductive rights, voting rights and other civil liberties, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, immigrants, feminism, disability rights, workers’ rights, and a host of other pro-people movements, effectively creating the conditions for a populist Left renaissance. As a progressive, I have to thank you for this.
You have successfully awoken Americans from their political apathy. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.
While I don’t think voting for you was in the best interest of most of your supporters, I appreciate that you have motivated them to become part of the political process. I have many Trump voters in my life and even though the content of much of your rhetoric is hateful, there are many good people across the American white working class who felt a twinge of what might be called hope for the first time in a long time after hearing you speak. It was bittersweet to see those I love who’ve been so depressed over the last fifteen or twenty years about their lostness in this new globalized America finally feeling heard. Even if I disagree with your methods and your message, you have made this portion of our citizenry visible. You helped people on my side realize that our calls for inclusiveness must include them. This was a much-needed service to the nation.
Your campaign rushed us to the inevitable conclusion that the Internet – the site of bullying, fake news, and unadulterated hate – makes people worse. You’ve thus given energy to what might be called the analog movement, a movement away from social media and digital living toward face-to-face, human interaction. It has become clear that we spend too much time in our bubbles, too much time in the lonely, alienating space of the internet, and that going out into the world – meeting reality, so to speak – will make us better people in the future. You got people to come to your rallies, but you also got people to join each other in the streets to rage against your machine. We all needed a real awakening from our digital dream and you’ve given it to us. Thank you for that.
As citizens descend upon airports across the country to protest your poorly conceived immigration ban, you’ve helped us keep our momentum going and added new arrows to our quiver. Skilled lawyers are stepping up and joining immigration activists, defenders of civil liberties, business leaders, and universities to act against you. You are putting people in touch and sharpening their readiness for your next impulsive mistake. You’re helping us build a cadre of dexterous litigators and constitutional scholars who will serve us well in decades to come.
There are many other things for which you deserve thanks. You have brought together my colleagues and our students at the university – and I suspect the same has happened in universities across the nation – to meet for serious, heart-to-heart conversations that were desperately needed. You made us ask ourselves questions like, “What is our role in society? How can we offer service beyond our walls? Are there elements of hypocrisy in our thinking and how can we address them?”
One important meeting at my university – organized solely to think through how we as humanities scholars should respond to your presidency – ended up generating an inspiring conversation on an extraordinary range of topics, from the need to move undergraduates away from a mindset of pure professionalization to how to fund a public library in Trenton, New Jersey. I walked away from that gathering with a sense of solidarity that I’ve never experienced in all my years in the university context. Thanks to you, I have been meeting new people across campus and in my town, having some of the best, most impassioned conversations I’ve ever had. An event at our local bookstore to decorate posters together for the march put me in contact with some incredible women I’d not have met otherwise. You have given the people an urgent reason to meet.
Furthermore, you have increased our enrollments in spring-semester courses on feminism, race and class relations, global liberalism, nationalist movements, immigration, and other such topics. You have motivated our students to become political, to speak up, and gather in ways they never have before. We can only thank you for this.
A few other things for which you deserve thanks:
Thank you for giving courage to people who may have had an aversion to the word feminist to now call themselves feminists.
Thank you for revealing the true face of the Republican party, which will make it much easier for us to do the right thing in 2018.
Thank you for underscoring the importance of infrastructure. Most Americans agree that it is difficult to build a nation on crumbling concrete. Let’s see if you’ll follow through with your campaign promise in this regard.
Thank you for giving a boost to the field of journalism, with people consuming more news and buying subscriptions to newspapers at an impressive rate. And thank you for inadvertently giving a boost to serious investigative journalism while highlighting the toxicity and emptiness of infotainment and the ratings-based news network philosophy.
Thank you for triggering our art instinct, which manifested itself in the astoundingly creative ways in which people expressed their dissent against you across the world on January 21.
Thank you for birthing a new generation of young activists and for rejuvenating older activists who haven’t felt this kind of thrill in years.
Thank you for helping my dad, a lifelong Texan conservative, begin to lean progressive at the age of sixty-one.
A German I know who has lived quite a while in the U.S. has always observed our political and social landscape with awe and consternation, stating repeatedly – based on obvious historical evidence from his own country – that America needs a major crisis in order to become better. You may be just the crisis that we needed.