is a series reflecting on our memories of 2017, one month at a time, as we head into the new year.
The year began with a kind of slow-motion dread. The surreal threat of Donald Trump’s inauguration looming, advancing, sliding up close and inappropriately touching you. At intervals, it felt like it would never come — like maybe it would be January 19th for the rest of our lives, and we could keep living, indefinitely, with that putrefied new reality safely out of reach. But it did come; there was no stay of execution. Donald Trump — a racist, bloated, bully, sex harasser, has-been reality TV star with draconian political positions and an increasingly slippery grip on English — became the 45th President of the United States.
In the days leading up to the event, there was a lot of chatter among smart people that maybe we’d all overestimated how bad it would be. “He’s really a Democrat, you know,” educated New Yorkers would say to one another. “Maybe Donald Trump is a Centrist” piped the hot-take industrial complex. “This could actually be good!” some dummies said, lying to themselves and anyone within earshot. There were even people who celebrated the inane idea that somehow with Trump’s unlikely victory, the system had been smashed — that soon we’d pick up the pieces and start over again, better than before.
Nothing went the way we thought it would, and yet everything went the way we thought it would. Very few people could have imagined that it was going to be so bad so fast, because nothing so immediately bad had ever been done in U.S. politics. As far as failing goes, Trump failed at light-speed.
But January was really a microcosm of things to come. A map to the stars, if the stars were all black holes. If the year could have a blueprint, it was all kind of perfectly penciled-in in its first month. Following the flurry of Russian hacking accusations and vote recounts of the previous months, Trump got right down to business showing just how awful — how cruel — he could actually be. Nearly immediately he staffed his cabinet with leathery bigots, horny millionaires, and ignorant also-rans who were woefully unequipped for their jobs. (And also his kids.) Trump couldn’t control himself, a thread which runs deeply through his presidency nearly a year later.
Here was a man who created a total fiction about winning the popular vote, desperately (and publicly) argued over his inauguration crowd size, and yet simultaneously signed a Constitution-violating travel ban just seven days after he was sworn in. He Tweeted insane bullshit constantly, which the press could not help itself in covering, because never before had we a leader so petulant, so child-like in his attention span. He insulted civil rights pioneer John Lewis, doubling down on his campaign rhetoric of focused attacks along lines of race, religion, or economic class. He picked a fight with Meryl Streep. There would be no act too petty in the Trump administration.
He didn’t rise to the occasion. He didn’t become more presidential. He slid right into the swamp and has stayed there, reeking and giving off fumes. They let Trump be Trump, and boy was he Trump.
In a particularly telling January vignette, as the final days of his presidency came to a close, Barack Obama gave a misty-eyed speech in Chicago, telling the crowd about his belief in a “fair, just, inclusive America.” On that exact same night, Trump launched into a wild fit following the BuzzFeed report about the existence of a classified dossier that claimed, among many other things, that the president-elect had once paid for the privilege of watching prostitutes in Russia urinate on one another in a four-star hotel. That Obama would soon be replaced with this alleged piss-boy was a metaphor almost too on-the-nose.
But what I think about most when I think about January is something else. Something way less gross. Something, frankly, that gives me hope.
Two days after his sparsely attended inauguration, a different, massively attended event was held in defiance of the new president: the Women’s March. People poured into D.C. from all over the country — all over the world — brandishing bullhorns, homemade signs, and yes, pussy hats. Looking back now, the foreshadowing seems so obvious. Nearly one year later we are seeing those voices in action — bringing down powerful men, winning seats in places where they’ve been disenfranchised, and yes, helping to stop pedophiles from grabbing power in the senate.
It was always insane that Hillary Clinton was ever placed in competition with a man so astronomically less capable in experience, poise, stature, and sanity, but that unreality was magnified with every one of Trump’s public failures. And this groundswell of protest punctured a bubble — a bubble that allowed men like Harvey Weinstein to be protected, that stopped whisper networks from becoming shouts, a bubble that hadn’t quite seen how shame and exposure could be used as a devastating weapon.
We’d lived in a society and with a media that didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t listen to women. We let this man rise to the highest office in the land? We didn’t do more to stop it? How bad did we have to be at listening to have let it get this far? The idea that a man so craven, so morally bankrupt, and so blatantly unqualified could become the “leader of the free world” is a national embarrassment that should sting every day. Nobody should be left off the hook. But there is comeuppance. There is retribution that is a long time coming. And I don’t think things will ever go back to the way they were. Nor should they. And maybe everything bad that’s happened could, someday — not yet, but someday — yield something good. Something better than before.
On election night I sat in the Outline Slack room. People from the team dipped in and out. We weren't launched yet so all we could do was watch that fucking wiggling New York Times dial and plan for the future. I'm certain the future we're currently living in was not visible to anyone on November 9th. At least, not in the early part of the night. As excitement and anticipation turned to concern, dread, and then finally a kind of exhausted acceptance, I realized that all the things that I figured were going to be hard about the new year had just gotten much, much harder. Before I logged out for the night I offered some words of resistance and encouragement to our team, who were either tuned out or shellshocked or both.
But I couldn’t have guessed at or told you what would really happen, the part of the blueprint that had just started to be drawn that night. I couldn’t have seen how much pain we were going to have to go through to begin to see what relief might look like. I still don’t think we’re finished. I’m still not sure we’ll succeed at fixing something that’s so broken — but I’m able to see the machinery that will let it happen. And I realize it’s the same machine we’ve always had, but someone else is at the wheel now.