I often get asked, often by white people, “What will you do without Donald Trump?” Or “What will you write about when Trump is out of the news?” Some people even have the gall to suggest “you’re going to miss Trump when he’s gone.”
There’s a perception that the soon-to-be-ex-president, with his seemingly insatiable appetite for crime and failure, has been a “boon” to his critics, especially those of us who focus on racial and social justice. In reality, it’s absurd that people think I need some kind of bloviating racist at the head of government to have cause to write about racial and social justice in this country. And it’s downright ridiculous to suggest that Trump, one of the least effective presidents of all time, was a linchpin of “the news.” Trump didn’t create news—he crowded out news with his childish, incoherent rants and proclamations.
Consider the last few weeks: Do you know how many trenchant and borderline bitter columns I could have gotten out of the Biden transition if Trump had just gone away when he lost the election, like a regular failed president? Do you know how much I wanted to explore the studio space between $1,400 and $2,000, but ended up getting “distracted” by the goddamn attempted coup d’état?
The question of what I’m going to write about is insulting. I was writing about the stunted logic that passes for a Republican theory of “justice” long before Trump came down an escalator. I’ve been talking about the deep racial animus that motivates Republican policies for even longer. I’ve had old friends tell me in recent years (or days) that warnings about Republicans that I’ve sounded since high school “finally make sense.” The operative difference in my career during the Trump era versus before is that more white people are willing to listen to the truth about their country—a truth I’ve been telling them since I learned to string two sentences together. Trump is a reflection of 40 years of Republican politics: He didn’t start this mess, and his departure will not end it.
Whether white people have the tolerance to hear that argument after the clownish, white supremacy mascot has been removed from the White House is anybody’s guess. Whether people have the stamina to root out Trumpism after Trump is straight-up unlikely. Already, we’re seeing some members of the media start the process of laundering the reputations of some of the Republicans responsible for these past years of tragedy, just as they tried to rehabilitate the reputations of George W. Bush and his torture cronies. John Yoo, to name one example, wrote the torture memos for Bush and now teaches law, of all things, at the University of California at Berkeley. This dude is regularly trotted out as a respected legal scholar, like everybody is just supposed to forget his role in promoting human rights violations.
I expect the same thing to happen to many Trump enablers. Betsy DeVos will be a university president somewhere. Bill Barr will be a frequent guest on Sunday morning talk shows, offering his opinion on Biden’s executive actions. Stephen Miller will be hired by Josh Hawley’s 2024 campaign committee. Lindsey Graham will caddy for whichever new leader appears to be the strongest.
I’ll write about all of it, but history tells me fewer people will care. My experience tells me that people want to forgive Republicans. They want to rehabilitate Republicans, even ones who have caused direct harm to the country. You couldn’t find John Edwards, who ran an entire presidential campaign centered around the rights and dignity of the poor, with Professor Xaiver’s Cebebro machine after he disgraced himself. But we will never be rid of Kellyanne Conway. There will be plenty to write about the Trump era, after the Trump era, because Republicans never go away.
Still, that’s not what I’m excited to write about. After four long years of writing from a defensive crouch, I cannot wait to get back to doing what I do best: screaming at the “white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.” I’m looking forward to being disappointed and underwhelmed by the Biden administration, and advocating for a more aggressive approach to advance progress. It will be a privilege, once again, to fight against friends whom I agree with 85 percent of the time. That’s much less stressful than trying to sleep with one eye open, waiting for #NeverTrump Republicans to shiv my priorities.
The truth is, the past four years have been boring, intellectually speaking. Fighting with Republicans is dull. What passes for rigorous thinking on the right isn’t rigorous or even thoughtful. It’s just trolling with a side of schoolyard bullying. All the rights’ leading lights do is play an intellectually bankrupt game of trying to explain why rules and norms shouldn’t apply to Republican presidents. For instance, they don’t actually think that presidents should solicit or bribe foreign governments to interfere with elections, or label a free press the enemy of the people. They don’t think presidents should be able to declare fake national emergencies to steal money from the defense budget to build public works explicitly not authorized by Congress, and they don’t think presidents should pressure state election officials to declare them the winners of elections they’ve lost.
They don’t think any old president should do those things—they think Republican presidents should do those things. And that makes debating them pointless.
There’s no actual or moral debate that can be had about whether children should be kidnapped, caged, and denied toothbrushes. There’s no scientific debate about whether human activity is warming the planet, or whether people should wear a mask during a communicable disease pandemic. Even their deeply held ideological arguments—that the state should force women to give birth or should endorse bigotry under the guise of religious freedom—aren’t interesting or even logically consistent. Their arguments aren’t “debatable.” They’re just a worldview decoupled from facts.
Republican arguments are offered in bad faith and rely either on a dissociative break with reality or the deep and abiding hypocrisy of their movement. And so, I don’t argue with Republicans. I try to expose Republicans. Every debate is just waiting for them to invoke the power of an invisible sky man who can’t be cross-examined. The only “challenge” is getting them to admit it in three tweets or less.
Arguing with other members of the left—with progressives, liberals, radicals, even the occasional centrist or neoliberal—is altogether more intellectually stimulating, because there are some basic facts that we all broadly agree on: “People are created equal.” “Women people count as people.” “Black and brown people have always actually been people, and were people first, if you want to get technical about the whole thing.” “Poor people [checks notes] yep, also people.” “Walmart is not people, and you can tell because ‘people’ ain’t even in the name.” These truths seem self-evident, but Republican legislators can scarcely write a bill without violating one of them.
How we go about making equality, justice, and fairness a reality for all the country’s various people is a live debate, and often a desperate fight. But it’s a worthy one. And an interesting one. I have strong views about the urgent need for aggressive policies that redress the justice deficit in this country. But others on the left side of the spectrum have a legitimate belief that a more incremental approach is a safer path to lasting change. Those other people are wrong (obviously), and I can’t wait to tell them why. But since those other people are generally decent human beings arguing in good faith about the best way to achieve our broadly shared goals of justice, they might actually listen. I can convince a left-of-center person with facts and reason. If I make a good argument, they might evolve and grow. And, not for nothing, I might actually learn something myself.
Pushing the Biden administration to do more, prodding it to go further, kicking it to go faster—these are the fights that are actually worth my time. It will be frustrating at times and likely disappointing in the aggregate—but I couldn’t be more excited to be frustrated and disappointed.
For four years, I’ve been horrified and afraid. I’m excited to rejoin the ranks of the “loyal opposition” to the government. Because defending the idea of “government” from the smash-and-grab Republicans trying to loot it has been no fun.