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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Only a start

Donald Trump departed for Florida on inauguration day as the White House prepared for the Bidens’ arrival. — Reuters file photo

You can’t just paper over rot.

I thought about that as I followed Wednesday’s presidential inauguration. And it’s a rot that’s not just in America.

The mood among many Americans may have been ecstatic as the Trump presidency ended — but, in truth, this is only a start to years of work.

“This is a great nation … we are a good people,” President Joe Biden said. “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”

Absolutely true.

But there’s a hard and bitter road ahead, one that may have existed to a large degree in America already, and one that exists in Canada, in the Atlantic provinces, and plenty of other places.

Donald Trump was exactly what he seemed to be: critically flawed, venal, petty and, above all, a narcissist more concerned about himself than about anything or anyone else.

Truth is, what has appeared out in the open in the United States over the last five years is no surprise — just as nothing about Donald Trump should have been a surprise.

Donald Trump was exactly what he seemed to be: critically flawed, venal, petty and, above all, a narcissist more concerned about himself than about anything or anyone else.

He stayed true to that character at every step of his life before the presidency, and through every minute of his presidency.

What worries me more is how willing and eager his coterie was to pamper and praise him for their own enrichment — on any number of levels. They supported him, backed his plans, even, I believe, lied right to his face about his popularity and about the results of the U.S. election, simply to maintain their own creature comforts. They built the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and slid right back into the shadows.

They’ve done all this to build their own fortunes, to enhance their own power, to reach their own political ends.

Worst of all? The willingness to use hate as a weapon.

The sheer amount of work it will take to undo the way hatred has been used as a political tool is daunting. When division is so carefully and deliberately weaponized, it may take a generation or more to even try to undo it, despite the hopefulness that seemed to overflow on Wednesday.

I am nowhere near that hopeful.

But back, for a moment, to the former president who seemed more intent on ripping things apart than building them up.

Donald Trump was, at the final analysis, exactly, precisely himself.

And despite his promises in 2016, he didn’t drain the swamp.

Far from it.

He didn’t even try to start draining it.

But he did show us the swamp.

The stench of it. The venality. The greed. The perversion of ideals for personal gain. The hate. The racism. The fact that it has inhabitants for whom almost no action is out of bounds.

It’s still all there, and the denizens are still there, too.

And those who used it for themselves under Trump are ready, willing and able to climb right back into the filth. Truth be told, there are others from different political backgrounds willing to go to equal extremes.

Biden may be talking unity and honesty and fairness, but it’s not as though a horrible thing will just suddenly and magically end.

It won’t.

“There is truth and there are lies — lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and a responsibility … to defend the truth and defeat the lies,” Biden said on Wednesday.

Would that it were so easy.

It isn’t, and it won’t be.

Trump, whether he meant to or not, pulled down the wallpaper and showed how much rot there actually is. How many acres of swamp there actually are.

And it’s staggering.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


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