This week marks one year since Donald Trump won the presidential election. The next day, I wrote a reflection piece for this blog, outlining the fears many of us shared and voicing hope and determination we held onto. Now, a year later, I write about where we are today and how we can continue to move forward towards a stronger and more united country.
Following the inauguration, the new administration quickly began enacting policies to match the divisive rhetoric of their campaign. One of Trump’s first moves was to enact so-called “travel bans,” prohibiting or severely limiting travel to the United States from several majority-Muslim countries. The administration has attempted three separate bans – in January, March, and September – but all three have been blocked, at least in part, by the courts.
Racial tensions have also escalated over recent months. In August, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer. Rather than immediately denouncing the neo-Nazis and white supremacists responsible for the violence, Trump repeatedly stated there was “blame on both sides.” Last week, Chief of Staff John Kelly stated that “the lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War – a comment that was quickly criticized by historians and twitter-users alike.
As expected, LGBT rights have also come under attack. In August, the administration put out a memo banning transgender Americans from serving openly in the military. This followed a less formal series of tweets by Trump in late July, which introduced the ban and cited “the tremendous medical costs and disruption” that transgender service members would entail (experts say it would actually be much more expensive to ban transgender troops than to allow them to continue serving). In October, Trump also spoke at the anti-LGBT Values Voters Summit, and he joked that Vice President Pence “wants to hang” all gay people.
Reproductive rights have been targeted by the Trump administration, as well. From dramatically expanding the global gag rule to backing harmful health care reform bills to undermining Title X protections, the administration has earned frequent comparisons to the dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale. During the month of October, the Department of Justice fought to prevent an undocumented, unaccompanied minor from obtaining an abortion; when they ultimately failed, they asked the Supreme Court to discipline her lawyers.
After “joking” that climate change is a Chinese hoax, it wasn’t surprising to see Trump nominate Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic and self-described “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” to head the Environmental Protection Agency. A particularly destructive hurricane season was likely worsened in part by climate change, and Trump failed to respond appropriately – particularly in Puerto Rico, where he feuded with a local mayor and impatiently told Americans on the island that federal aid would not stay “forever.” On a more positive note, however, the administration released a report last Friday affirming that climate change is an urgent problem caused almost entirely by human action; it is not yet clear whether this report will prompt tangible policy changes.
In April, Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court – a seat that remained vacant for over a year. At only 50 years old, Gorsuch will likely shape the Court for decades to come, and – to the possible annoyance of his new colleagues – he wasted no time voicing his thoughts from the bench. He also received criticism for speeches with Mitch McConnel in Kentucky and at Trump International Hotel, seen as favors done for those who played a major role in getting him the job.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has yet to effectively regroup and rally behind a clear message or leader. Last week, Donna Brazile gave flames to the idea that the Democratic primary was somehow “rigged,” and it was revealed that the DNC and the Clinton campaign helped fund the research that led to the dossier alleging connections and coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. There are still stark divisions within the party, and it has a long way to go if Democrats want to take back Congress next year.
This is only a small sampling of the past year’s strife. However, there have been reasons to remain optimistic throughout. The Women’s Marches, held across the country in the days following the inauguration, were attended by millions and sent a strong message of unity and empowerment. The first charges have been filed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. While the President himself has not been held accountable for his history of sexual assault and harassment, other prominent figures – including Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey – were forced to face consequences for their actions, showing that perhaps we are ready to believe victims of sexual violence.
There is still a lot of work to do. However, as I said last year, I still believe we are stronger together. Forces of chaos – whether they come from Russia or the White House – seek to divide us. Over the course of the past year, it feels like they’ve been winning more often than not. But it isn’t too late for us to look back upon the common threads of humanity that unite us.
As someone from the Midwest and the Deep South who has since moved to the East Coast to join the “coastal elites,” I’ve spent a lot of time around people on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum. They’ve got a lot more in common than either would be willing to admit. Moving forward, it is vital for us to focus on those commonalities. Proceed with compassion and empathy, and ask your neighbors to do the same. It’s our only hope for a better and more united future.