The Scars We Carry

Now we are engaged in a great debate about the lessons and meaning of the Trump era. To progressives like me, the past four years have been a period of mendacity, incompetence, racism and — in the end — insurrection. The wounds are fresh.

When I saw Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sworn in, I felt, briefly, as if all the injuries of the past four years might, with time, recede. As Michael Gerber, editor of American Bystander, so poignantly noted on the day of the inauguration, “As a person with a disability, it’s just nice to have a president who won’t make fun of me.”

Disabled people aren’t the only ones who will bear the lingering scars of the Trump era. As an L.G.B.T.Q. American, I’ve spent the past four years fearing that every new day will bring some new indignation — like Ben Carson calling women like me “big hairy men,” or the time the administration considered erasing transgender individuals as a legal entity altogether. Or simply the policy enacted as Mr. Trump was on his way out the door, wiping out nondiscrimination protections for queer Americans.

Now we’re on month one of the Biden/Harris years, and for many progressives, it’s with a hearty sigh of relief. I wept at the inauguration; I actually stood up for the Pledge of Allegiance and sang along with the national anthem. Nonetheless, the scars of the Trump years are likely to endure. A new era, alas, doesn’t mean that the last one didn’t happen. I learned in the most personal way imaginable that one’s country can suddenly turn on you, that the progress that you think is being made can be wiped out in an instant.

Which raises the question: How can time heal our wounds when the underlying diseases — racism, xenophobia, hatreds of every stripe — continue to flourish and thrive? How can we ever get past Donald Trump, when so many people seem unwilling to let him go?

What do we learn from our scars? Are they just a reminder of the traumas we’ve experienced, things that remind us how easily wounded we really are? Or are we to look upon our dents and marks with wisdom, and understand these wounds really did heal with time — that the pain that once defined our lives will not last forever?

Franklin and I, for our part, have found common ground after 50 years. (We never did stop being friends.) He allows as how it was wrong to stab me with his pencil, and I admit that there are times when I can be more than a little annoying. In hindsight, he was not wrong when he urged me to “just be yourself and shut up.”

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