In the first weeks and months after the presidential election, the oft-repeated sentiment was that we couldn't normalize what was happening: The fact that we'd just elected a president who used misogynist and racist slurs with abandon, who regularly attacked the media, who didn't win the popular vote. The moment we got used to such a thing was the moment that we gave up on the idea of what America truly is.
To an extent, those calls for clarity during a time of mass political and cultural confusion were right on—we absolutely should not normalize Trump's behavior or the bigotry of his supporters. But there's also a real danger in believing that we will ever go back to what we once knew as normal.
Behind the fantastical thinking is the idea that there's still a stable America waiting for us. There's not.
I get it; in times of mass shock, magical thinking can be comforting: Viral tweets imagining what would be happening in a Clinton presidency right now ("Beat Macron & Trudeau at beer pong with Merkel...Sent Bill out for drunk food"), gifs of Hillary smiling with world leaders in contrast to Trump's embarrassing hand-grab and grimace. What might have been!
It's all a fun exercise, and goodness knows we could use some humor and some hope right now. But behind the fantastical thinking and alternate presidential timeline is the idea that maybe there is an easy way out of this presidency. Or that perhaps, behind all the mayhem, there's still a stable America waiting for us.
This is not temporary. The hate marching through city streets, the horror of families being separated by unjust immigration policies, the emboldening of misogynists and xenophobes, and now the renewed commitment to military intervention in Afghanistan; even if we're able to stop those things tomorrow, reverberations of their impact will continue on.
There is no coming back from this in the way a lot of us would like to believe.
Even once Trump is out of office—whether by the 2020 election, or, less likely, impeachment or resignation—we can't just pick up where we left off on November 8th. Trump has awakened anger and backlash that won't leave just because he does. The young screaming white men we saw line the streets of Charlottesville aren't just a terrifying memory—they're a sign of things to come.
The young screaming white men we saw line the streets of Charlottesville aren't just a terrifying memory—they're a sign of things to come.
Alex Pareene writes (and I agree) that the "alt-right" will soon translate to the mainstream GOP: "In a decade, state legislatures will start filling up with Gamergaters, MRAs, /pol/ posters, Anime Nazis, and Proud Boys. These are, as of now, the only people in their age cohort becoming more active in Republican politics in the Trump era. Everyone else is fleeing. This will be the legacy of Trumpism...."
This is the future and reality we have to start preparing for—the one that feminists and racial justice activists have been warning us about for years. They've been leading the charge against the rot that pervades culture and politics. If you haven't been listening to them yet, you need to start now.
I'm not suggesting we give up hope, but real hope comes from open eyes and forward-motion—not wishful thinking.
Jessica Valenti is a contributing editor to MarieClaire.com—read her weekly column here.