How long will Trump’s stain on America last?
We are now almost halfway through Donald Trump’s first and — God help us — only term in office. It is tempting to think already of how the damage he will have left as a legacy, will be repaired. One of the saddest costs is perhaps the end of American unity, amity, even partnership among former leaders.
One cannot imagine a Donald Trump seated beside Barack Obama and George Bush at a future Kennedy Center gala honouring Tony Bennett, or an event such as Lady Gaga did for the hurricane victims in Texas, where she serenaded four presidents and their wives along with tens of thousands. One cannot imagine an African Aids mission where Trump and Obama work as a team united, as Clinton and Bush did. He would simply not be welcome.
This is perhaps the core of the Trump tragedy for America. He is a clear breach with a century’s long tradition that, when the shouting dies down, when the baton is passed, the nation’s elder statesmen do work for the nation together. It is not a uniquely American attribute, but one they do far better than we do.
Paul Martin will never be in the same room as Jean Chrétien, as Stephen Harper will to his grave shun Brian Mulroney. These are not statesmanlike stances, they do injury to the power of the office. Harper’s new memoir merely reopens old wounds rather than offering an elder’s wisdom.
In the post-Trump era, one suspects he will be “ghosted,” as today’s jargon has it. Republicans will revere the two Bushes and Reagan in their shared mythology; Democrats, the Clintons and the Obamas. Each side will pass quickly over this sad interregnum.
For the Trumps, for its younger generation especially, it will be exceedingly poignant. Whether he leaves by resignation — his wisest choice — or impeachment or defeat, the stain that grows daily on his name and his behaviour will follow him to the grave. More even than Nixon, any ameliorative efforts at good works will always live in the shadow of his political, legal, financial and sexual transgression.
It’s too soon to tell what of his packing the Supreme Court, undermining international alliances, fomenting racism, pushing America down the path of rogue state will endure. The optimist will say the American Republic has endured worse and prevailed, and that would be true. The pessimist will say these suppurating wounds inflicted on domestic and global harmony will ooze their poison for a generation, with many lives lost as a likely cost.
Americans are famous for second chances, for a restart. A woman GOP leader, vigorous in her denunciation of Trump’s deviance could quickly restore the party’s glory. The Democrats could overreach in their contempt, by again blaming those seduced into his huckster’s tent.
Even Brett Kavanaugh, seared by the near destruction of his carefully planned career, could achieve wisdom and grace, be seen as a justice of great fairness, more than anyone would believe possible today.
America, more than any nation, has always been capable of these astonishing turns, seizing an improbable victory from certain humiliation. Few communities on Earth could have gone from the blood and horror of the civil rights struggle to an Obama presidency in less than a generation. Fewer still could have passed through 9/11, from military and security policy excess, to an intelligence community leadership acting in unanimity as the defenders of democratic principle against a modern mad king, in less than two decades. And yet … As you watch in awe at the majesty of the cultural, disaster recovery, and national celebration events at which Americans excel, where each living president joins in a starring role, we will sigh sadly at the first post-Trump occasion.
His absence will forever be a powerful reminder of what was lost when such a man was given such a role.