Four Years of My Life I Can’t Get Back (but there is hope)

It’s been a week since Joe Biden became president of the United States. For four years, ten weeks, and four days I was in a shitty mood. Granted, it got a bit better after November 7, 2019, when Biden’s win became official but still, having Trump in office and spreading malice cast a shadow on every day until January 19, when I could finally say, in 24 hours Biden and the Democrats would be in control of two branches of the government.

Neither Biden nor Harris was in my top three during the primary season. However, once the votes were cast and Joe selected Kamala as his running mate, I put my reservations aside and wholeheartedly supported them. So far, I’m pleased with the direction they’re taking the country. Beyond treating COVID seriously, Biden’s moves signal a grasp on the realities facing the third decade of this century. No doubt, our new president and his team will do things I don’t like, but I think he is a well-intentioned person who cares about the good of the many, not the White, wealthy few. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but after the last administration, I so want to believe that there are decent people who go into government service.

When I reflect on the trauma that set in on November 8, 2016, I am disturbed because I feel like I lost four years of my life. Every day I woke up wondering what screwed-up thing Trump did while I was still asleep. The constant barrage of hate wore me down. The rhetoric, the racism, the anti-LGBTQ policies, war on the environment and other species, additional destruction of public education…I can go on, and I know a lot of you are well aware of what I’m saying as you experienced the feeling of constant doom and gloom yourselves. Trump and the GOP’s behavior gave people license to be their worst selves. I witnessed bullying, lying, and misogyny (on the part of both men and women) among wine professionals that I never saw before in my 30-year career. He brought out the base instincts in so many. Even if you don’t know these people personally, to think that we live in a country where a significant minority is ok with fascism is frightening. The attack on the Capitol, the contrast in the way law enforcement handled it compared to the BLM protests over the summer, and the fact that Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are still allowed to make policy for our country boggles the rational mind.

That’s not to say there weren’t good things to happen or happy occasions. Entering a graduate program was one of the best decisions I ever made. It brought a lot of things I was grappling with into focus and helped put my life on track after years of depression. I met some great folks, both teachers and other students, who taught me so much more than anything I can read in a book. At the same time, taking a deep dive into Butler, Foucault, hooks, and other theorists satisfied an intellectual thirst that’s been dry for decades. While my 50thbirthday (13 days after Trump won in 2016) sucked, Cami’s the following year was one of the best parties we’ve ever had. A few weeks later, we went to Vermont for a fantastic wedding. I’ve seen my nephews turn into wonderful young men. I got back in touch with an old friend from when I studied in London more than 30 years ago, and we’ve become closer than ever. Moving in 2019 gave us a home that we love and an incredible community with our neighbors. I did some traveling, started a non-profit organization, and got to see the Warriors win two championships.

At the same time, there was always this underlying feeling of not being able to take a deep breath. I don’t say that lightly; I had severe asthma before I moved to San Francisco. Not being able to breathe is scary as fuck. Like so many others, my mental health was affected daily. Now that Biden is President, I realize even more how the period between 11/8/16 – 1/19/21 was one of constant trauma. Granted, Black and Indigenous people in this country have probably always felt this way. White people will never know what it is like to be Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or of Middle Eastern descent in the US, but we now have an idea of what it feels like to have our values and humanity attacked. When I talk to older people, they say that they felt more threatened by Trumpism than any other political movement in their lifetimes. That includes McCarthyism and Nixon. This makes me feel very sad for people, such as my dad, who is 86. Like me, he lost a lot of sleep over the last four years. We cannot get this time back, and when you know that most of your life is already behind you, the present is ever more precious.

So how do we make sense of it? There were silver linings, of course. The Democratic party is now more progressive, thanks to women of color. More White people woke up to their privilege. Youth activism is driving discussions about equity and justice. Yet it still feels like a temporary reprieve, and that scares the shit out of me. Alt-right Christian nationalism is not going anywhere any time soon. The crazy train of Q-Anon and Marjorie Taylor Greene left the station. While I feel better about the federal government, there are still plenty of right-wing nutjobs wielding power. We can’t change the past, but we can use it to guide our futures. The four-plus years of Trumpism and trauma are over, and I’m cautiously hopeful that better days lie ahead for my family, friends, and the country. We can right the ship with Biden and Harris and show the world that imperfect as the US is, it is reckoning with its past and earnestly working towards a more equitable future.

But, as for our own mental health and how Trump and then COVID impacted it, it’s going to take way more than executive orders, promising cabinet posts, and stimulus checks. The United States does not take mental health seriously. We pay lip service to it but good luck finding a therapist who takes insurance. Insurance companies that cover mental health have massive restrictions, and their customers are limited to a list of therapists in their network. If you’ve been seeing a therapist for several years and your insurance changes, you may no longer be covered. Therapists are not interchangeable, and disruptions can have dire consequences. Mental health insurance often has a cutoff of so many sessions per calendar year. This determination is sometimes based on the insurers’ assessment of our mental health, not what the therapist thinks. Instead, psychiatrists push anti-depressants on people, and while many have positive responses to medication, they do not help everyone. Also, there are other forms of treatment with fewer side effects. Millions of people do not have any health insurance, let alone mental health coverage. The stigma that surrounds mental health problems prevents a lot of people from getting help. The Biden administration needs to address this and fast as we’re looking at widescale PTSD from COVID and Trump’s four years. It’s real.

If you feel like a war just ended and that you’re processing four years of anguish, you are not alone. I certainly am, as are many people I know. One of the dumbest things I’ve heard is that politics is not personal. It is entirely personal. We vote for leaders who we hope will perpetuate our values. Some are solely concerned with how government makes their lives better, while others prioritize the well-being of the many. Either way and anywhere in between, our personal interests drive our political positions. There might be a sizable minority on board with Trump’s malice, corruption, incompetence, and, to repeat, fascism, but I believe that the majority was horrified and that for years to come, we will continue to be affected by the hatred he engendered. We cannot get those four years back, but we can try to have peace going forward. I don’t want to hear about Donald Trump any longer. I hope but doubt he’ll get convicted in the Senate impeachment trial. I suspect that between his smoke and mirror finances, tax fraud charges, and whatever else Leticia James and Cyrus Vance have against him, he’ll pay some price, though probably not enough. If Cruz, Hawley, and Greene are allowed to keep their jobs in the Senate and Congress, I hope the good works of their benevolent colleagues drown out their petty, hateful voices. The best way to expunge Trumpism is to use government to make people’s lives better. No doubt, the collective trauma brought on by Trump pushed the Democrats and the country to the left on many issues. But there was a steep price to pay, one that we are only just beginning to comprehend.