Relief and Rage

Charles Blow writes an opinion column for The New York Times:

I watched as [he] left the White House on Wednesday, tacky and lacking in grace and dignity — consistent with his life and presidency — and I watched as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of America.

I had many feelings as I observed this pageant of customs. The first was the feeling of having — remarkably, improbably — survived a calamity . . .

To be sure, [the former president] has done real and lasting damage to this country. He has tested the rules we thought might constrain a president and found them wanting. He has shown the next presidential hopeful with authoritarian tendencies that authoritarianism can gain a foothold here.

[He] taught us, the hard way, that what we took for granted as inviolable was in fact largely tradition, and traditions are not laws. They have no enforcement mechanism. They are not compulsory.

There is the feeling of releasing resistance, of allowing the tension in the neck to relax and the shoulders to drop. It is the feeling of exhaling. It is the feeling of returning to some form of normalcy — a normal presidency, a normal news cycle, a normal sleep habit. . . .

But then there is also the lingering feelings of disappointment, betrayal and loss of faith.

How is it possible that enough Americans — mostly white, it should be noted — voted for [that person] in the first place, sending him to the White House? And how did he receive the second-highest number of votes in the country’s history in November?

[He] is a racist and a white supremacist. And yet, millions of Americans — again, mostly white — either agreed with his views or were willing to abide them. I know that there will be those who warn that I should just let this go, that holding on to it is “divisive.”

To them I say, “Hell no.” You can’t have a feeling of unity after there was enforcement of a practice of cruelty. There must be acknowledgment and accountability. There must be contrition and repentance.

It is not enough to simply let the co-conspirators and abettors of a white supremacist president quiet down and cool off, biding their time, waiting for the next opportunity for their riotousness and wrath to be unfurled and unleashed.

How is it that people of good conscience and good faith are supposed to make common cause, to find healing and unity, with people who have demonstrated their contempt for the equal humanity of others? Where is the center point between my determination to be free and your determination to contain or constrict that freedom?

I still think about the children separated from their parents at the southern border and the children kept in cages. I think about the [that] administration arguing in court that those children didn’t need toothbrushes or soap or the lights turned out at night so that they could sleep. I still think about all those who died in custody and all those who have not been reunited with their families.

There are many transgressions of the [his] presidency. Some, like the mishandling of the pandemic, have even been far more deadly than the handling of migrant families. But there is something particularly cruel and inhumane about what [he] did to those children in the name of the United States government.

I will never forget that. And I will never forget that tens of millions of Americans were willing to accept that and give [him] a pass on it.

I am happy that [his] administration is now behind us and a new, more normal one is before us, but my relief still mingles with my rage.