Three years ago, just after the 2016 election, journalist Sarah Kendzior wrote a very powerful piece. If you have not yet read it, you should. She had spent many years studying authoritarian countries, and encouraged every American to take time to write down their current perceptions, including:

  • Who you are
  • What you have experienced and endured
  • What you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others
  • Your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children
  • Your ancestors’ struggles and how their hardships shaped who you are today
  • Your biography
  • Your memories
  • A list of things you would never do
  • A list of things you would never believe

She wanted Americans to write these things down because she believed that they were all about to get very squishy under Trump – as she had seen happen in authoritarian countries like Russia. She believed Americans would benefit from a documented personal moral and historical reference point to look back to.

As a side note, at least a part of the squishiness in Russia can be attributed to a little discussed key advisor to Vladimir Putin – an advertising and PR guru named Vladislav Surkov. Early in Putin’s Presidency, Surkov developed an approach to propaganda that uniquely achieved its aims without pushing the government’s desired viewpoint or stifling dissent. Instead, Surkov’s theatrical approach combined the insertion and repetition of misinformation and conspiracy theories into the public dialog, while supporting and enflaming groups on the extremes of the political spectrum. The result has been a Russian population that is generally cynical and distrusting of government, but which is also disempowered from mobilizing around any one truth, because determining the actual truth about any situation in Russia is so elusive. This shrewd advance in propaganda, combined with an authoritarian government that occasionally assassinates its critics, has enabled Putin to stay in power with little realistic challenge. It is also a powerful and inexpensive tool that Putin is currently using to destabilize Western democracies and former Soviet republics.

I am grateful and relieved to say that Kendzior’s most dire concerns have yet to materialize. But there is no denying that we as a nation and as individuals have been changed by the past three years under Trump. And there is little denying that the general trajectory of our nation is toward becoming the type of country over which Kendzior raised the alarm.

The political and legal changes in America under Trump have been extensive, remarkable, and well documented. This piece focuses on the changes that I have observed in myself personally over the past three years.


(Context: I am a middle class, heterosexual, progressive white male whose life is not in immediate peril from our current political situation.)


THEN:
While I knew that our government interfered in the electoral affairs of other nations, it was virtually inconceivable to me that another country would have the audacity to try to do it to us, much less do it successfully.

NOW:
I assume that all of our major elections into the future will be the target of foreign interference, and that some of it will be successful.


THEN:
I believed that our Constitution was an ingeniously conceived and rock solid foundation that could see America through any crisis, and which made us immune to the possibility of totalitarianism or authoritarianism.

NOW:
I think that our Constitution left us woefully unprepared for the possibility of a corrupt demagogue President paired with a highly partisan Legislature, all of whom may be deeply compromised by a foreign power. Our Constitution also did not foresee the steady stream of 24/7 propaganda that is pumped out by the likes of Fox News. We are not immune to anything.


THEN:
I viewed America, rightfully or not, as the world’s leading superpower, pushed gradually toward decline by the values and effects of capitalism, but still held in the top role by the world’s belief that while the Americans are not perfect, our actions are better than those of some other nations.

NOW:
I see America as increasingly irrelevant in the eyes of the rest of the world, except to the extent that one needs to pay attention to a rabid ape running through the house. By and large, other countries seem to be just working around us, and some are looking to fill the power vacuum that America has left behind.


THEN:
I thought that Americans had differences of opinion, and that political extremes in America were generally muted by the common sense majority in the center.

NOW:
I think that factions of Americans believe in completely different, self-contained realities with their own “histories” and daily information flows, and those different realities animate disagreements that will likely never be resolved because we cannot even agree on what the facts are.


THEN:
If I disagreed with someone, I might seek to persuade them using logic and facts.

NOW:
I believe that listening with compassion can sometimes be more persuasive than the most well-reasoned argument, and that one can become drained and frustrated trying to use logic and facts with some people.


THEN:
I believed that the editorial policies of mainstream news organizations generally benefitted corporations and left out a lot of vital information.

NOW:
I still believe that, but also see mainstream news outlets as a precious life raft in a turbulent sea of misinformation, because despite their flaws, their editorial policies require a degree of fact-checking that is absent from bloggers and other information sources.


THEN:
I thought that protests were an effective form of dissent.

NOW:
I see protests largely as vanity events for people who want to “see and be seen,” to get attention for the most clever sign, and to feel a sense of shared political beliefs, but events which are irrelevant speed bumps to those in power. I’m looking for more meaningful forms of nonviolent dissent.


THEN:
I took water, heating and electricity for granted.

NOW:
I am humbly aware of Russia’s ability to shut down our electrical grid for days, and China’s ability to shut down our natural gas infrastructure for weeks – acts that could prove deadly to millions of people living in northern states if done during the winter months.


THEN:
I gave little thought to the needs, struggles and perspectives of rural Americans. With the exception of a handful of relatives, the world outside the suburbs and major cities was invisible to me.

NOW:
I think a lot about the needs, struggles and perspectives of rural people.


THEN:
I was very aware of the white supremacist and white nationalist movements within the U.S., but considered them an underground subculture.

NOW:
I see elements of white supremacy and white nationalism as emerging aspects of mainstream American culture.


THEN:
I had hopes of travelling abroad once I could save up enough money.

NOW:
I am reluctant to travel outside the U.S., because I believe that my nationality is more likely to make me a target of violence in some situations.


THEN:
I believed that Americans generally spoke their minds.

NOW:
I think that most Trump supporters keep their opinions to/amongst themselves, for fear of being shut down or ridiculed.


THEN:
When I was a kid and teen growing up during the Cold War, I had a daily dread of nuclear war. This gradually came to be replaced by decades of relative ease that such a war was unlikely.

NOW:
Nuclear conflict once again seems like a very real possibility, and I feel sorry for kids growing up in this era.


THEN:
I thought that the greatest threat to American democracy was corporate money.

NOW:
I think that the greatest threat to American democracy is foreign interference.


THEN:
I saw America’s government as similar to an ocean liner: sometimes moving a bit toward the left, sometimes moving a bit toward the right, but always generally headed in a consistent direction.

NOW:
I see America’s government as similar to a ship adrift with no navigation instruments and a drunken captain – an easy target for anyone who wants to plunder whatever is on board.


THEN:
Days went by when I wouldn’t think about what the President might be doing/saying or might have just done/said.

NOW:
It is increasingly difficult to recall a life where the American President’s words and actions were not center stage at all times – a life where you could hear a stranger tell their friend “did you hear what he did today,” and have no idea who their conversation was about.


THEN:
The Presidency had an innate dignity.

NOW:
The Presidency has all the grace of a screaming toddler in a supermarket demanding that his mother buy him a toy.


THEN:
I wouldn’t give conspiracy theories a second of my time.

NOW:
I take interest in conspiracy theories, because they sometimes help me better understand what is animating people with whom I disagree.


THEN:
I was too skeptical and rational to believe in conspiracy theories myself.

NOW:
I have my own conspiracy theory that, in addition to Trump, Putin has also compromised many Republican lawmakers through tainted campaign contributions, with the goals of discrediting American democracy, humiliating the U.S., getting a more Russia-subservient U.S. foreign policy, and using passive lawmakers and Trump’s loud craziness to quietly exfiltrate billions from the U.S. government and/or to make the U.S. government his own mass scale money laundering operation.
#WilburRoss
#HouseAndSenateAppropriationsRepublicans
#DeutscheBank


THEN:
I thought that friendship was stronger than politics.

NOW:
I’ve seen many of my friends turn their backs on their other friends over Trump and the amoral values that he embodies.


THEN:
The idea of a civil war in 21st Century America – something along the lines of what is currently happening in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq – seemed bizarre and laughable.

NOW
Civil war seems like a real possibility, particularly if Trump gets his supporters worked up enough with some conspiratorial victim-y melodrama. It is uncertain in my mind whether such a civil war ends up looking like a couple weeks of small groups of armed wackos with faux-patriotic delusions of grandeur trying to take over different locations and promptly being subdued and arrested by law enforcement (because rule of law means something in America), or if a significant percentage of law enforcement and/or military folks actually join in on their side, in which case, things could be very ugly in America for a very long time.


THEN:
Determination and persistence were character traits that had served me well in life.

NOW:
I often feel overwhelmed by the daily barrage of crazy crap coming out of the White House, and persistence and determination are no match for it. I need to take breaks.


THEN:
My knowledge of the different dimensions of corruption, extremism, and Russian culture was limited.

NOW:
Under Trump, my knowledge and vocabulary has been expanded considerably to include “money laundering,” “kompromat,” “indictment,” “racketeering,” “grand jury,” “witness tampering,” “GRU,” “FSB,” “sanctions,” “kleptocracy,” “self-dealing,” “emoluments,” “bone saw,” “white supremacist,” “white nationalist,” “alt right,” “nationalist,” “shell company,” “troll farm,” “Magnitsky Act,” “fake news,” “oligarch,” “RICO,” “obstruction of justice,“ “Special Counsel,” and “subpoena.”


THEN:
I was aware of hypocrisy within the religious community, but also believed that many Christians genuinely live their faith.

NOW:
I have no respect or patience for adherents to a hypocritical and willfully blind version of Christianity that embraces, supports and defends an amoral man who daily embodies the exact opposite of the teachings of Jesus Christ.


THEN:
I believed that corruption was rampant in U.S. politics, mainly in the form of the legalized bribery that we call campaign finance.

NOW:
I believe that my past perception of political corruption was quaint.


THEN:
I believed that the solutions that “fixed” the 2008 financial collapse did not address some of the root problems, but that when those problems inevitably resurfaced, our government would have the competence to pull us out of complete catastrophe.

NOW:
Despite our soaring stock market and record low unemployment rate, I have a gut feeling that America is circling the drain toward a level of grim and grinding hardship that our country did not even know during the Great Depression.


THEN:
I thought that countries like Russia did not guarantee democracy, free speech, and civil rights, and that authoritarian leaders like Putin were almost universally loathed by their countries’ inhabitants.

NOW:
I realize that things are a lot less cut and dry: Russia’s Constitution guarantees many of the same freedoms that ours does, and many of Russia’s people cheer Putin on.


These are the personal internal changes that I am capable of seeing in myself today versus three years ago. There may be others that I don’t have the self-awareness to see. What changes have you seen in yourself?

– rob rünt

One thought on “How Trump’s Presidency Has Changed Me

  1. I think I’m just as pessimistic now as I was before Trump, but I am extremely bummed to see how huge the racism issue still is. I DID think it had been getting somewhat better. Probably up until 9/11. Then everything changed. And it’s hard to swallow all the hate and sense of entitlement out there.

    Like

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