Let’s start with some honesty. I have multiple unfinished drafts of this essay. Whether it’s trying to sum up the last four years, or even just 2020 itself, words have not come easily.
The first approach I considered was taking a look at the art created during the last four years. I remember reading an article published shortly after Trump’s election victory in which the author argued that art would flourish under his administration. Great tension and struggle often creates an environment where great art can flourish. This would be a silver lining, argued the author.
So I spent some time looking back at the movies, music, art, television, and literature that has come out since 2017. Did we see a renaissance of creativity, spurred on by the frustrations and horrors of President Trump?
After a thorough analysis, my conclusion was… meh. Sure, lots of art spoke to the times we live in. There were outstanding novels (much love to Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy), excellent television shows (Succession is a brilliant dissection of corporate capitalism, nepotism, class structure, etc.), mind-altering cinema (does it get better than Get Out?), and instant-classic albums (let’s fetch the bolt cutters, Fiona).
Of course, none of those are directly about Trump. And while there was plenty of stuff that tried to make more direct commentary about our 45th President (such as season 2 and 3 or The Handmaid’s Tale, or the comedy of SNL), reality was always stranger, more upsetting, and more flat-out absurd.
As I worked my way through a fifth iteration of that original essay, trying to find something that resonated with me, I came to my own realization. This was the sort of essay I would have written for 30POV the first time around. That’s not a bad thing! I love writing about my favorite art and pop culture.
But as someone who is no longer in my 30s, my perspective has (thankfully) evolved. And looking back at four years of Trump already seems like a dead-end to me. Perhaps we need to learn to look at time in much longer increments. One term of Trump was bad. There is much work to be done to fix the damage that has been caused, to our society and our democracy. I don’t say that lightly. But let’s also know that we can undo that damage. We can put in the work to make this a better country. We are capable of that.
Let’s zoom out further for a moment. I have two sons: an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old boy. When they are old and grey and looking back on 2020, what will they think about?
I can assure you that they won’t be thinking about the time when there may have been foreign interference in our elections, or about how Facebook was once a monopoly, or any of the awful or spiteful or hurtful things said by our President. I don’t believe they’ll think about how we were a fractured nation politically in 2020, and I don’t think they’ll be thinking about Hunter Biden’s emails.
I believe they’ll remember the global pandemic, that once-in-a-lifetime event that reshaped all of our lives. They’ll remember staying at home, day after day, with their parents, not able to do things like have a birthday party, things they already had learned in their short lives to take for granted. And they’ll remember how we all found new ways to have fun, to celebrate, and to enjoy the time spent with each other.
I never went through such a disruptive event in my youth, not at a global level, and neither did you. The global pandemic of 2020 has already made a profound impact on my children’s lives that will never leave them. Imprinted in their memories, they will eventually pass on, genetically and culturally, what they’ve learned from these experiences to their children or to others they love.
So what do I think about the last four years of Trump? I think that we need to dig out of a big hole, but I trust that we will find a way, that the arc of history does indeed bend towards progress. And I believe that we will have crappy Presidents and wonderful Presidents again, that we will continue taking two steps forwards and one step back. The history books will record all of that.
However, we will also have something deeper. Time will roll on, and if there is a legacy of this time in our history, let it be this: that we struggled through some tough times and learned that no matter the obstacles, we could find ways to connect and love and focus on what really matters.
Good riddance to 2020 and to the outgoing administration, and much love and hope for the future.