June 14, 2019
Actors who have played villains have been known to have difficulty reorienting themselves afterward. There is the tragic case of Heath Ledger after his performance as The Joker. More recently, Michael B. Jordan needed therapy to return to normal after inhabiting the damaged soul of Erik Killmonger. “I didn’t have an escape plan,” he told Oprah.
Donald Trump has taken our entire country to a dark place for two and a half years, and he is not finished. How do we return to normal after he is gone? After so many institutions have been undermined, after so many norms have been trampled, after truth itself has been subverted, how do we regain our civic footing? Where do we go for mega-group therapy? How do we rebuild trust and respect?
We need to make a project of this. Our commonweal will not repair itself. We might not want a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but we could take some lessons from South Africa’s experience. (Antjie Krog’s book Country of My Skull might be a good place to start.)
The dark forces that Trumpism has unleashed cannot be expected to return tamely to their caves and crawl back under their rocks the moment the Instigator in Chief is gone. Nor can we simply pretend the incredible destruction of these years never happened.
It will likely be worst for those who have been Trump’s enthusiastic mouthpieces and foot soldiers. But the rest of us will not easily forget the ugly things we discovered about the character and decency, or lack thereof, in friends, neighbors, and colleagues of whom we previously thought better.
It will take time and concerted effort to rebuild what has so cavalierly been trashed. And it will have to be done cooperatively across the political divide. There must be consequences for the cynical predation and rapacity of the worst offenders. But mere revenge—a massive purge, for example—will only spread the poison further. And two bearers of poison (at least) are likely to continue sitting on our highest court long after Trump is gone.
This will not be easy. Good people of many political persuasions will need to think and work on this together for our country’s sake.
The presidential candidate who seems to me best suited to lead this healing and rebuilding is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He has the requisite clarity, sensitivity, maturity, disposition, and ability to connect and inspire.
It is not enough to get rid of Trump. The recklessness and disregard that he unleashed must be tamed. Nor can we afford an orgy of payback. We will need to find ways to cooperate across our diversity as a people, not just change whose boot is on whose neck.
Portraying that positive vision will help the candidate mobilize the voters needed for a strong and convincing win.
Just my thoughts on a Friday evening.