This is the last column I write with Donald Trump as president. And I admit to a certain pride and satisfaction in surviving his fateful, divisive and racist presidency.
A confession: as a journalist, I wanted to resist, report on and denounce his lies and insults until he left. In the end, Trump lost, leaves in disgrace and we remain.
I was one of the first to denounce the danger he posed to democracy and freedom of the press – after he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and expelled me from a news conference in August 2015. And there’s a sort of vindication, at the end of his rule, with the confirmation that we did not exaggerate. On the contrary, Trump behaved like a bully and a caudillo. He did everything possible to change the results of the last presidential election, which he lost to Joe Biden by a broad margin. In a call to Georgia Republican officials, he asked them to “find 11,780 votes” he needed to win that state. Despite presidential threats, the officials ignored him.
Trump also pushed his followers to launch a rebellion against democracy. Five people died after a mob invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6. That was the same day Trump urged thousands of his supporters at a rally in front of the White House to “walk down to the Capitol.” And he gave them a reason. “Because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
In Latin America, we call using force to remain in power and reject the legal results of an election a “coup attempt.” Three important differences here: the attempt in the United States failed, and it never had the support of the military or the courts. Trump will go into the history books as the only U.S. president to be impeached twice. The second and gravest charge was “incitement to insurrection.”
Trump spent his last weeks in office playing golf, promoting his false conspiracy theories and, as ABC News 4 reported, without a public event on his calendar for at least nine days. This, in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than 380,000 people across the United States.
Ironically, Trump wanted to remain four more years on a job he neglected and seemed to dislike. His failings and absences remind me a lot of the diminished and erratic character in the book The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez who rules a “house without authority” and complains, “this is not the power I wanted.”
One of the most powerful blows to Trump’s capacity for spreading his lies and messages was the decision by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to suspend his social network accounts. Twitter, for example, ruled that two Trump posts violated its “glorification of violence” policy and permanently closed his account, with more than 88 million followers. Of course, he can still use the White House media machine to communicate with the public. But the platform that helped him win the presidency has now expelled him.
An important clarification: Our job as journalists is very different from those blessed social networks. They are private companies, and like in a private home they can impose their own rules for admission. But they urgently need to clarify their activity policies.
For example, why is @realDonaldTrump expelled and not @NicolasMaduro, a dictator accused by the United Nations of crime against humanity? How is it that a tiny group, not elected by anyone, can rule on content and conversations around the globe? Even Twitter President Jack Dorsey acknowledged that the decision to block Trump “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous.” Many questions about practices on social networks remain unanswered.
We journalists, on the other hand, cannot and should not ever censor anyone. Not Trump, not anyone else. But we do have the duty to immediately point out and denounce a president or politician who incites to violence or attacks democracy.
If Trump, AMLO, Uribe, Maduro or Ortega speaks, we must report what he said. But we’re not here to just repeat what leaders and dictators say. Even less so if they lie or misinform. Our job is to challenge them, not simply to record them.
At the end of the day, whether we’re journalists or not, we will all be judged by what we did and did not do when Trump was president. It is impossible to be neutral on Trump. How can you support someone after he insulted your wife, your father, your family, your neighbors and your co-workers?
The 147 Republicans in Congress who refused to recognize the results of the presidential elections will have to spend the rest of their careers explaining why they did something so anti-democratic. What does it say about you when you justify and defend a cheater who attempts a coup? And not just politicians. How many of the 74 million people who voted for Trump believe his lies and approve of his dangerously authoritarian arrogance? This suggests Trumpism will survive Trump.
Trump leaves behind a legacy of racism, division, violence and authoritarianism.
We survived Trump! And I say that with a huge sigh of relief. As though we were just emerging from a war. Now it’s our turn to make sure this trauma never happens again.