By Jill Abramson/Washington
Trump,” the man growled, as he pushed by me on the Amtrak regional train last summer. I was travelling with my two-year-old granddaughter in her stroller, and a suitcase. A conductor had just told me that we needed to move cars to exit at our station. He helped us. But when we rolled into the right car, the most convenient seat – in the front, with extra room – was occupied by a middle-aged man.
The conductor asked him if he would mind moving to one of the many empty rows nearby. Obviously unhappy, he did as he was asked, but as he passed by me he expressed his fury in a single, angry word: “Trump”. The president’s name is an epithet. This is the legacy of his first year in office.
Congressman John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, had a similar tale to tell on a recent podcast. He said he had been on a flight from Atlanta, when a passenger yelled “Trump!” as he walked by. Apparently, the word is even used as a racist taunt at high school basketball games. The presidential historian Jon Meacham says this is without precedent: “virgin territory”, he told the New York Times.
So prevalent is the use of Trump’s name as a slur that the White House had to issue a formal statement saying the president “condemns violence, bigotry and hatred in all its forms, and finds anyone who might invoke his or any other political figure’s name for such aims to be contemptible”.
Of course, what is truly contemptible is his record: the Muslim ban, the mooted crackdown on migrants from “...... countries”, and the attacks on reproductive rights, childcare and maternity programmes. Trump’s first year in office has actually exceeded my worst expectations. On an almost daily basis, I look at a prescient and funny New Yorker cover by the Canadian-born artist Barry Blitt, published days after the election. The image shows a New York City subway rider reading his newspaper. There are giant banner headlines on the front page saying: “Oh, Please God, no”, “Anything but that”, and “Come on”.
Every day there are Trump policies, actions and utterances that deserve exactly these reactions. A heinous tax bill: “Oh, Please God, no.” The president endorses a Senate candidate facing multiple sexual assault allegations: “Anything but that.” The ridiculous boast that he is a stable genius: “Come on.”
The question at the heart of Trump’s first year isn’t how awful a president he has been, but how long the damage he has done – to the fabric of American life and the country’s standing in the world – will last.
Much of the harm will be impossible to erase. The rightwing judges he has appointed, and will appoint, enjoy lifetime tenure. As uranium mining resumes on once protected national lands, the poisons that seep into the earth and water do lasting damage to the environment. Countries that considered the US an ally and protector have already looked elsewhere (or inward) for support. If Trump provokes North Korea and acts on the threat to use his bigger button, who knows what could happen? (“Anything but that.”)
What is the antidote to despair? There is, perhaps, one glimmer of hope. Trump could provide a positive jolt to the body politic. His galvanisation of women’s energy may be even more profound than if Hillary Clinton had defeated him.
At the time of writing, there are 439 women running for Congress in 2018, according to Rutgers University’s Centre for American Women in Politics, the highest number of female candidates ever. Most, but not all, are progressive Democrats. “We have never seen anything like what we have seen over the last 12 months,” Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, the largest national organisation devoted to the election of female candidates, told the New York Times, adding: “If you could underline that four times, that’s what I mean.” In elections for Virginia’s House of Delegates in November, 11 of the 15 seats flipped from Republicans were won by women.
In 2018, women want to be governors in record numbers too. The majority of the 79 women running so far (the previous record was 34 in 1994) could become the first female governor in their states. Again, most are Democrats and say their decision to run was spurred by Clinton’s loss, the #MeToo movement and Donald Trump’s anti-woman policies and remarks.
“Some of it is absolutely a reaction to President Trump and his policies,” Jean Sinzdak, of the Centre for American Women in Politics, told National Public Radio last year. “For others, it is Hillary Clinton’s loss, [which] sort of woke them up to the idea that maybe we haven’t made as much progress as we thought.”
There have been solid wins for good men too. In Virginia, the Democrat Ralph Northam won the race for governor in November, and his fellow Democrat Doug Jones stung Roy Moore in the special Alabama senate election. In both states the large turnout of black women was decisive, which made the results all the sweeter – a rebuke to a racist president.
On 10 November 2016, I e-mailed a friend and former colleague, the New York Times deputy managing editor, Janet Elder, who like me badly hoped to see the first woman president elected. I told her that my daughter, a surgeon, felt shattered and conned by Trump’s win, and that I feared for what kind of future my granddaughter, Eloise, would face after the president was done in office.
“I think none of us, even as we ourselves have been beaten and brutalised, fully appreciated just how intractable and deeply rooted, with tangles everywhere, all of this would turn out to be,” Elder responded. “If there was a con, it was how steep the climb actually is and how much more we have to go to get there ... the sad truth is that women still make less than men, still don’t have equal seating at the power tables in government, in corporations, in hospitals, and this country. Our country, where we are a majority, just elected someone who boasted of using his power to freely abuse women. The climb somehow feels tougher than ever but it’s still true that I voted on Tuesday, something my grandmother didn’t have the right to do.”
Elder added this coda: “Eloise will do more and go higher than her very accomplished grandmother and mother ever dreamed.” And there we have it: even with all he has done and will do, Trump can’t trample the hope that things will someday be better. He can’t kill the American dream.
* Jill Abramson, a former New York Times executive editor, is a Guardian columnist
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