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It’s been almost three weeks since Donald Trump scurried out of the White House and fled to Florida and Joseph R. Biden Jr. was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. I’m still not quite sure I have processed it, that Trump is out of power and the United States has been restored to some version of responsible government.
As much as this delights me, it also puts me on edge. Am I the only one who doesn’t know what to do with the silence? Am I alone in having trouble adjusting to the White House calm?
I know we face major challenges. The coronavirus has infected more than 27 million Americans. More than 460,000 of us have died. The vaccine rollout is improving, but we are still behind the curve. People are out of work. We have yet to reckon with systemic racism or the threat of domestic terrorism from the far right. The former president's lackeys still strut around Congress, and the shadow of the 2022 election cycle looms.
At the same time, there's no doubt we have turned a corner, even if I haven't quite made it all the way around. I can’t shake four years of conditioning; the constant tumult; checking social media five, six, seven times an hour; talking about him ad infinitum; wrestling with my outrage.
Call it post-Trump derangement syndrome. Maybe it should get a listing in the Merck Manual.
I admit I’m complicit in my malady. I have written dozens of pieces railing against Trump and his policies, beginning on the day of the 2016 Iowa caucuses, right up to … now.
For five years I believed — I still believe — that Trump represented an existential threat to the republic. And his surrogates continue to do the same. The gleefully hateful Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, California’s own craven Rep. Kevin McCarthy and the insurrection poster children, Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. We keep getting reminded of just how bad a second term would have been, and will be if Trump runs and wins again.
The impeachment fight, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick honored in a Rotunda ceremony, the news that Trump’s last-minute manipulations may keep horrific immigration policies in place, it all provokes a kind of political muscle memory in me, a bottomless state of stress.
Don't get me wrong. I'm one of the lucky ones. I've come through the last four years relatively unscathed. I wasn’t separated from my kids, my parents are surviving the pandemic, I haven’t lost my job, and I wasn’t gassed in Lafayette Square or attacked in Minneapolis. No one put a knee on my neck.
One way or another, though, we’ve all been traumatized by the Trump administration and the lawlessness and cruelty it encouraged or enacted as policy. This was America at its worst, and the consequences will not fade fast enough, if they ever fully fade at all.
What this means is that, even in the midst of my relief and my (dare I say it) optimism, Trumpism remains. We are in a less-than-steady state.
We need to keep our guard up. For the last four years, it's been easy as well as necessary to focus our shock and activism on one person. The former president sucked the oxygen out of everything. Evicting him from office was herculean. It was hardly a sure thing even before he tried to steal the election. The run-up to Inauguration Day was a season spent in hell.
Yet the dangers are more scattered. The threats seem as pronounced but less distinct. At whom or what do I direct my anxiety? Twitter? It's so quiet now. The fringe elements of Congress? I don't want to give them traction. Fox News, Newsmax, OAN? All are worthy of opprobrium, but I get no satisfaction calling out their lies.
So, post-Trump derangement syndrome. At some point I am hoping it will pass. For the moment, I am at loose ends.
David L. Ulin is a contributing writer to Opinion.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.