I was a sophomore in high school when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. On the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, my 15-year-old self woke up to a torrential downpour outside my window and a notification on my phone that told me yes, he had actually won. Even more poetic than the miserable weather was my first class in our unmistakably changed world: AP Government. That morning, I walked into the solemn classroom and found my friends in equal states of shock. Before the bell, we commiserated on the cold metal frames of our desks, wondering what the next four years would hold. Our teacher was at a loss of words, restrained by the required political neutrality of his position. I don’t remember much of what I did or said that day. I don’t really want to.
There are going to be a lot of takes on the election, and from a political standpoint, I’m not sure I can be all that additive. From a personal standpoint, though, I will always recall the 2016 election and its aftermath as the background for the development of the nuanced political opinions and convictions that my peers and I now hold. As the world burned around us, I watched my friends become articulate and strong young adults. We attended protests; we swore we’d make him a one term president. It was the injustices and absurdities I observed during his administration that motivated me to become a writer.
I came out during Trump’s presidency. At my first pride, my friends and I marched through the colorful streets of D.C., my hometown and a most unwelcoming city for the president. Our presence surrounded the White House like a blockade for its hatred. We chanted and sang loudly, reminding our reprehensible leader that the facts of our plentiful and powerful existence would not be disputed.
I don’t look back on all this with gratitude for our 45th president. I only credit him with introducing me to the ugly underbelly of our nation. As he rolled back environmental regulations and pursued xenophobic policies, there was no denying the devastating consequences of his term.
In this sense, the last four years have been a crash course in cognitive dissonance. The state of affairs is undeniably worse, but there are also silver linings, namely in the work of progressive leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Stacey Abrams. More generally, I see America grappling with tougher questions after that scary, orange what-if came to pass.
Part of me wants Joe Biden’s inauguration to mark a clean slate. I don’t want to hear about the 45th president or his despicable family ever again, and I hope they cease to be a relevant factor in our public discourse. Even parodic representations of him have overstayed their welcome on my social media feeds. Instead, I want to remember the last four years with gratitude toward those who resisted and taught me the importance of resilience.