The president* we needed at this time

President* Trump,

Laura suggested switching out the scare quotes and swapping in an * to indicate the illegitimacy of your presidency since this is likely how you’ll be listed in the history books. It may take a bit, but the writing is on the wall that you were aided and abetted by Putin and his pals and that you did not “win” through a free and fair election in 2016. There’s no way you’re going to be given a pass by future historians. Maybe if you’d been willing and able to lead in an at least marginally competent, morally sound fashion there would have been some impetus to overlook just how you were installed, but since we all know this has most spectacularly not come to pass there will be no such ‘benefit of the doubt’–type pass extended to you. No, you will go down in infamy as an * president.

But you know what? I’ve been thinking more about how you may have been exactly the president* we needed at this time. I’m not sure if I’ve written this to you or have only thought it to myself, but I’m beginning to see that you were exactly the right person for the job – you, or someone equally vile and venal, were the only one who could so f*ck things up that ordinary, checked out Americans would be forced to wake up to the pain we’re all feeling, the suffering we’ve endured and the fraught, deeply compromised future we face. So yes, you’ve done a bang up job sowing division, compounding suffering, catalyzing chaos. And yes, you did it all correctly, as ordered by your Masters; they can’t fault you one tiny bit.

And yet we are waking up, we are coming around to the fact of suffering and we’re starting to put up our periscopes so we can see our neighbors’ suffering as well as the suffering of the person across the way who doesn’t look like us. We’re starting to talk and march and cry together. The conditions, the causes of all this suffering have been accumulating and compounding for centuries, millennia really, long, long before you or I were anything but stardust. I’m not saying you or your specific contributions to the pyre were preordained or that this is “playing out as it should” – what I am saying is that we needed someone as odiously disruptive as you to prod us awake and to get us to step back and say out loud that this is bullshit, that we don’t have to keep doing things the way we’ve always done things, because really, what led to the current uprising was the old ways on steroids.

As awful as it is, I think it was the fact of the pandemic and the fiasco of your response that set the proximal conditions for us to respond to George Floyd’s murder by the state so very differently from our usual responses to murders of African American people by police and white vigilantes. The pandemic has laid bare our inter-being. As Samuel Kimbriel said in his WP Op-Ed this morning “We are a single body, interconnected.” Truly.

Though many of us are still cocooned in the La La Land of personal invincibility, we can’t escape the reality of our vulnerability to this virus, the suffering and trauma that it is visiting on us all. I think having this in our faces primed us to be able to see beyond our typically myopic self-interests and pan out so that we can better (still terribly imperfectly, but some better) see the reality of systemic racism and its devastating effects.

None of this is new – not one little bit of it – but some veils have been lifted and we have an opportunity to dig much, much deeper than we have before. We have the moral obligation to put our laws and customs under the microscope of antiracism (and all the other ‘isms we need to combat) to discern which actually serve all of us and which have to be jettisoned so that we can finally make America, America, and put us on a sustainable, honorable path together.

Before I sign off, I want to tell you that I never thought I’d cry reading an editorial by a bunch of ex-senior military leaders, but Panetta et al.’s WP editorial evoked incredibly strong emotions for me – relief for the country and democracy, relief for peaceful protestors, relief for active duty service members, gratitude that they stepped up, and gratitude that your political coffin is now firmly nailed shut. Rest in ignominy.

May we be safe.
May we keep stepping up to resist tyranny.
May we have each other’s backs.
May we dare to see a future where we all are flourishing.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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