This post discusses suicide.
On Wednesday, I woke up to a Twitter direct message from my friend and former editor Dave. He’d sent me a Slack screenshot from January 20, 2017, of me greeting the office with a glib, “…good? Morning.” It is funny (“funny”) to look back at this message and be reminded of my demeanor, which I think might have been a mix of apprehension and fear. Things were different as I watched President Joe Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration. At first I thought I felt nothing. Then I realized what I feel is grief.
I have vivid memories of that time around four years ago, when Donald Trump was elected president and took office. At the start of my career, I was as a partially-employed journalist, furiously blogging every single tragic thing that happened during that time. I recall mocking comments from people on the right insisting that Hillary Clinton’s supporters needed to “get over it” and that a Trump administration “won’t be that bad.” There was this overwhelming refrain of “you’ll survive.” These critics assumed that fears from the left were merely rooted in anger for backing a losing candidate instead of a result of the country’s approval of discrimination and hate and the threat of physical harm and death.
I remember the shock of the Muslim ban, the feeling of tripping over myself to keep up. I remember the panicked questions of, “Can he do this? Can he do this?” for months and months, and consecutive attacks on Black Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, queer and trans people, refugees, people with disabilities, women, people of color. And then I remember after the months of feeling like this “wasn’t normal,” settling into this realization that this is what normal is, period.
Trump announced his candidacy in the summer ahead of my senior year of college. Because of this, I have only known what it’s like to operate as a journalist and writer during a Trump news cycle, and to work from a position of defense. As Biden was sworn in, I found myself searching for some feeling of relief. But I realized I am actually, so, so fucking sad. Below this surface feeling of a lack of celebration, and numbness, I am mourning.
So many people did not survive the Trump administration. People who were harmed by his policies as members of Congress displayed an overall lack of care to the people they supposedly serve, years ahead of the pandemic. Victims who were targeted for their gender or race or ethnicity and harassed or killed by people emboldened by Trump’s hateful rhetoric. Those who were abused by a white supremacist police force enabled by Trump’s protection.
Any sense of relief I might have felt yesterday was occupied instead by my sadness for the people whose stories I’ve reported on or blogged about over the past four years, most of that time spent on the social justice and immigration beats. I found myself thinking about the people who suffered the most and who lived, and died, in fear and pain. Mostly, I thought about the kids who died in immigration custody, and who are experiencing long term trauma from being taken from their parents in a new place. Of the man who died by suicide after being separated from his wife and their toddler.
On Tuesday, Katie Rose Miller, former communications director to Mike Pence and wife to Stephen Miller, Trump’s white nationalist senior advisor who made so much of this pain and terror possible, tweeted a photo of the two of them and their newborn, standing in what I assume is the walkway leading to the West Wing. Her caption read, “Forever thankful for the Trump-Pence administration, because of the last four years, we became a family of three.” How fucking ghoulish. But yes, as Biden emphasized in his inauguration speech, now is the time for unity.
Sure, so many people suffered, and died — 400,000 PEOPLE, AT LEAST, FROM THIS PANDEMIC ALONE — but the answer to cries for racial justice and of suffering through a pandemic is coming together despite the suffering and death. The answer is to say a silent prayer for those lives lost, but not before standing in the shoes of, uhh, the people who have enabled and carried out this suffering and death, as Biden encouraged in his speech. As if Biden as a candidate did little to inspire any feeling of hope leading up to the election, his inauguration solidified this lack of relief I feel now.
The only moment during the inauguration that moved me was watching Harris greet a Black toddler with an embrace and a masked kiss on her head, but the feeling was fleeting, quickly replaced with this grief that I can’t shake. This feeling of unease at commentators fawning over the pomp and minutiae of an inauguration, like the details of a service member’s uniform and a painting selected by Jill Biden and a set of etched crystal vases. We’re supposed to act like a new day has dawned and that order and honor to the office of the presidency has been restored. But much of it means nothing to me.
On Tuesday, I had a difficult time fully grasping the idea that it was Trump’s last full day as president, because it felt like it meant little, too. Not because of the low expectations I have for Biden, but because so many people have suffered and died in Trump’s wake. The damage has been done, and though his removal was more than necessary, it felt unceremonial, even with a second impeachment on the table and countless charges for his followers who mobbed the Capitol. I just feel grief for the harm that cannot be undone by Day 1 executive orders, and I am left thinking about the survivors of the Trump administration — people who were harmed and lived to see the end of it — who see the country moving on, and have no place to put their grief and mourning either.