First there will be the rain of op eds, and as you nod along, the words will taste like ash in your mouth. You will know that all the paper fury in the world will not change this. The people who mattered—the people with whom we lost touch—don’t even read these things anymore.
In time, the fury will fade, because no fire lasts forever. There will be nothing to do but accept it. This is how our nation works.
Accept the result, obviously, but not submit to it all it might entail. The things that he has promised to bring—deportation forces, an expansion of enemy targeting to include women and children, and the return of state-sanctioned torture—cannot be accepted. They must be opposed in every way we know.
Liberalism—belief in human liberty and freedom of expression—has suffered extraordinary setbacks these past few years. The bulwark has always been the United States. If human rights are eroded here, which now seems likely, the rest of the world will have little chance. Ethnic and religious discrimination, unjust governance, and suppression of democratic freedoms may be normalized. International strongmen, of whom there are a growing number, could not be more pleased.
For my part, I suspect the course of my life has changed. I gambled, too confidently, on a one-term Clinton presidency before a likely Republican resurgence in 2020. I thought there would be time to cement the good work that Obama has done and to go even further. This was work I hoped to be a part of.
Instead, much of what Obama built will be destroyed. Trump’s people will trample on it and crow. The worst of Bush II will still seem echoes of a happier time. My task, if I get the chance, will not be to expand Obama’s legacy. It will be to remember it; to one day restore it with whatever pieces I can find.
Coming from what will, for two more months, be the defense establishment, the most immediate responsibility will be to gauge the character of the men and women Trump chooses to administer the organizations that keep our nation safe. Particular attention should be paid to the 122 Republicans who have sworn, under no circumstances, to serve in a Trump presidency. Some are likely to fall prey to equivocation and the desire—like all of us—to feel important. If they compromise principle now, that albatross should follow them for the rest of their lives.
There is no bright side to this. The years that follow will be hard, most of all for this nation’s minorities and immigrants. Now that he has power, Trump and all matter of foreign proxies will work relentlessly to divide the opposition. This is the playbook of authoritarians across the world. They will prey particularly on those from the far left who will, for understandable reasons, feel betrayed.
Democrats and champions of international liberalism must remain united. This is the only way we will weather the difficult fight to come.