In 2017 Trump spoke of American carnage: it was not a complaint but a promise.
For better or worse, the four-year reign of a racist president adds special significance to the day on which we honor the life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact the arc of Trumpism which began in 2011 with his impugning Barack Obama's birthplace and peaked with his white supremacist allies storming the Capitol on January 6, may be ready for a decline.
I realize that statement belies conventional wisdom—most experts believe that the amalgam of Proud Boys, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and an entire asylumful of conspiracy nuts will not simply vanish with Trump's departure. True—we're stuck with the sorry lot of them far into the future. But like any rudderless movement constructed on hatred and lies, there can be no permanence to it.
Unfortunately that fact in no way diminishes the current threat, nor does it imply that once Joe Biden becomes president, it will vanish. Hitler died; Naziism did not. The Confederacy fell; racism persists.
It was a scant dozen years ago when America was flaunting its own inclusiveness—we had elected a Black president and in so doing had caught up with the rest of the world. But it took mere months for the racist attacks to begin from people like Trump, Joe Arpaio, Roy Moore, Sarah Palin, and many others who, predictably, figured into the inception of Trump the political figure.
In truth we had not caught up with the rest of the world; on the contrary, the election of Barack Obama brought into clearer focus the inextricably link between the American story and racism. In some ways having a Black president illuminated the problem, for Americans could boast of having overcome racism (hey, look who's in the White House) while treating every non-president as the "others." And soon we learned the others' names: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and more. And we learned more recently that the American president had no tolerance for groups fighting to be treated fairly such as Black Lives Matter, but plenty for groups trying to overthrow the government and killing its officials like Stop the Steal.
I often think of that ominous line from Trump's 2017 inaugural address: This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. But there was no American carnage, only wish-fulfillment from a man with a history of racial animus. That wish came true in our Capitol on January 6, but because Trump said too many quiet parts out loud, even many of his supporters have come to understand that carnage has always been his wish, not a stumbling block.
On January 6 Donald Trump goaded the mob and promised to join them, then returned to the White House to watch the bloodshed on television. His craven betrayal of his own supporters stands out even more on the day we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. It was the Reverend King who, in 1963 when some 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, stood with those marchers and delivered words that would outlive him and inspire generations.
There will never be an American holiday to honor Donald Trump. Even President's Day is sure to lose some of its luster when we remember the 45th person to hold that office.