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Editorial: How can America recover from its Trump-induced trauma?

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., hours before his term ended
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., a few hours before his term ended.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

Thursday, the nation will wake up and there will be no tweet from the president of the United States fomenting ignorance and division, encouraging people to act outrageously or to disbelieve science. He won’t be wondering aloud whether bleach, taken internally, would prevent or cure COVID-19. He won’t make a new enemy of another longtime ally or enact a sudden travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries that separates families and strands travelers at airports with visas in hand.

No more mocking his critics or calling factual reports by mainstream media outlets “fake news,” undermining the public’s faith in reliable sources of information. No more calling some of the brightest minds in the country “dumb” and some of its greatest entertainers “talentless.” No more refusals to wear a mask because it sends “the wrong message.”

No more unilateral moves that threaten to wreck the market for individual health insurance policies. No more reneging on promises to help students defrauded by for-profit colleges. No more declaring bogus national emergencies to defy Congress and divert money to an expensive and pretty much useless border wall.

Every change of president brings new policies and a new agenda. But this change is different. The nation hasn’t just been under a conservative Republican administration for the last four years; it has been in the grip of a giant and insatiable ego.

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President Trump wasn’t nearly as involved in advancing policy as he was in advancing himself, and no statement or action was seemingly too outlandish for him if it succeeded in drawing the national or even global spotlight. Threaten to exchange nuclear strikes with North Korea? Check! Portray groups of migrants as terrorists bent on invading America? Check!

And succeed it did; he was a master at diverting the press’ attention to his latest outrages, no matter how absurd they were.

In a way, Trump has inflicted a form of trauma on the nation. Not just on the people victimized by bad Trump policies, such as his failed leadership on COVID-19 or his cruel family separation policy at the border, but on all of us subjected to the relentless, daily onslaught of Trump’s wall of noise.

Whether they liked Trump or detested him, Americans have spent the last four years mentally preparing themselves for the “what did he do now?” moment that would arrive pretty much every day. For most voters, that meant steeling themselves for whatever new way he might come up with to encourage violent racists or embarrass the nation with a tweet or undermine the nation’s judicial and electoral systems or denigrate a racial and ethnic group.

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Even as we reacted with dismay or even disgust, we learned like lab rats to expect the continual shocks. Make no mistake, it’s going to feel odd when they stop coming. We will continue to gird ourselves for weeks, perhaps months to come.

He made meanness a cultural norm. Groundbreaking Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was “an incompetent judge” whose mind was “shot.” A bevy of famous leaders, writers and athletes were “dumb.” John F. Kelly, the only chief of staff who kept him slightly in check, was in over his head and “went out with a whimper.”

Perhaps the worst damage was to the truth. With his continual lies, Trump created a world with seemingly no objective reality. How many votes he got, where a hurricane was heading, how many people were employed, how big his tax cuts were — the answers weren’t determined by facts, they were whatever he said they were. The mistruths came so fast and with such abandon that most people couldn’t begin to keep track, which meant they often were amplified on social media and accepted by much of the public. Even just seeing honesty and respect for truth return to the White House will take a period of adjustment.

How will we reclaim a sense of normalcy, honesty and common courtesy? Unfortunately, we were trained by a master of chutzpah to go without such niceties. Let’s give ourselves time; our expectations won’t change simply because we have a sane and decent man in the presidency. Trump damaged America and the world, but one of his biggest tricks of all: He damaged us, conservative and liberal both, more than we realized.


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