Trump’s policy changes can’t be corrected quickly. On climate, where time is no ally, we are far further behind today than four years ago, following the Trump-led US exit from the Paris Climate Accords and rollback of more than 125 environmental protections. Internationally, our reputation is deeply damaged, alienating allies like Germany and heightening tensions with China. Obamacare, abortion rights, and LGBTQI rights all hang in the balance, with crucial decisions expected from the Supreme Court in mere weeks.
The crown jewel of Trump’s first term, our newly minted 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, will hand down rulings for a decade or more to come. In the face of controversy and precedent, Trump and the Republican Senate delivered three new justices to the bench, all aged under 55 and each with his or her own clear ardently conservative record on the issues of the day – abortion, healthcare, and gun ownership among them. Last week, during his victory lap on the eve of Amy Coney Barrett’s ascension, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell commented, "A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.” He was right.
Most importantly, any hope of a "return to normalcy” assumes Biden’s inauguration would usher in an era beyond the reach of Trump’s actively destructive nature. It assumes that Trump will follow the lead of presidents past, withholding comment for the betterment of the nation. That, I fear, could not be further from the truth.
Trump has fomented the racial animus and economic anxieties of, depending on the day, 40-ish percent of US voters, his base. Even today, despite all our nation has suffered, his approval rating is 95 per cent among Republicans. The darkest element of that group, white nationalists and the far-right, have found in Trump a hero. When he speaks (or tweets) they listen. Trump did not affix bigotry into the fabric of America, it existed long before his arrival, but he did use the office of the president to legitimise its cries. Having cultivated a fan base that would watch him "stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without turning its back, it is impossible to imagine Trump resisting the platform they offer.
So no, I don’t have hope that things will return to normal once Trump leaves office. History can only march forward. It will take more than replacing one 70-something-year-old white man with another to bring back the "normalcy” we once knew. And who would want to anyway, when the cultural impact of Trump was most often one of revealing, rather than inspiring, hatred.
The election of Biden is necessary. It’s hygienic. But it’s hardly cause for hope.
When searching for hope to latch onto, I look instead to our past. I consider the division sowed throughout the 20th century, marked by decades of geopolitical conflict, political corruption and racial division, and find slim solace in knowing we made it through to the other side. I look also to the youthful, multicultural coalition that has overtaken American streets in recent months – our future – pressing truth to power, demanding our nation make good on the promise it sold. They tell me better is possible. Then I rest easy knowing that, given a longer view of history, these things have a way of working out. Hopefully.