What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics? This is an installment in a series of short essays that reflect on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Since those first shocking days after the November 2016 presidential election, I’ve grounded myself by becoming, ironically, more radical and more alert to injustice. We’re now living in what I’ve taken to calling “Trump Time” — a bizarre image of regular time wherein we’re all on alert for abuse. It has changed all of us, but it’s transformed me into a new kind of political animal. I am now rooted in, and content with, a new political realm with which I had only flirted before the election.
Politics prior to Trump was, for me, mostly a steady but dispassionate endeavor. It consisted of regular voting, participating in minor actions, and passively consuming political news. I confess that I treated politics, in the main, as another form of entertainment. I stayed informed and expressed outrage on political issues with friends — occasionally signing petitions and writing emails to my representatives. I never called, rarely marched, and claimed no party allegiance. I was a slightly left-leaning moderate — centered, in a literal sense, but not necessarily rooted. Trump forced a change.
I had, however, been slowly drifting leftward from the squishy center since 2004. That was the year I learned, via Richard Clarke, about the unsavory aspects of Bush 43’s post-9/11 actions — this after having voted for Bush in 2000. After 2008 my leftward drift developed into a hard paddle. My feelings accelerated after losing my job in 2010 due to delayed cutbacks after the Great Recession. That loss coincided with the growth of the Occupy Movement. Then came Thomas Piketty’s tome in 2013. The next year I gravitated toward the politics of Bernie Sanders, to the point of wearing a “Sanders for President” t-shirt. I became a Jacobin subscriber. I read Marx and significant chunks of Frankfurt School thinkers. After the 2016 election, however, I became a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). There I’m putting down roots. In short, the election of Trump coincided with an awakening that had slowly taken place over the past thirteen or fourteen years.
This philosophical transformation catalyzed new ground-level actions. I was already deeply involved with my children’s public school in Chicago, supporting the city’s teachers union. I had monitored mayoral actions closely. But now I have my state and federal representatives on speed dial. I fill out witness slips on proposed bills in Illinois. Last year’s national election has, ironically, caused me to pay even more attention to local politics. I’m more connected to my neighborhood than ever before.
Trump’s election, then, quickened and cemented my leftward drift. Living in Trump Time has radicalized me in the best way possible. I’m grounded in a hard-left activist politics that better correlates with my Catholic socialism.
As an important coda, Trump Time has also deepened my marriage. My spouse and I are closer because we act in concert, attend to the news together, and think together about the best way to make a difference. From the lemon in the president’s office I’ve concocted some personal lemonade.
Tim Lacy is a cultural and intellectual historian who works at University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.