By Mia Taylor
I will forever remember election night 2016. I was sitting in a Hillcrest restaurant watching the presidential election results with a friend, when all of the sudden the tide turned. Donald Trump, the underdog, the candidate who my family and friends assured me was a long shot and would never win, was suddenly in the lead. As I continued my meal, it became abundantly clear Trump would indeed win. He would be our next president, and all the naysayers had been wrong. Thus began a four-year long, national nightmare.
Like others, I tried at first to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. I listened to those who said Trump won't be as bad as we expect. That his bark is worse than his bite. That his rhetoric would fade and he would settle into the job and adapt to the norms and expectations of his new role. As we all know now, none of those things proved true. Instead it was quite the opposite.
At every turn during the past four years, Trump revealed himself to be far worse than any of us could have ever imagined. With each passing day he outdid himself with even more abhorrent affronts and atrocities. He turned out to be a bigger bully, a more insidious criminal, a far more offensive racist, and a more ignorant human being than I for one ever imagined. His total lack of humanity, his complete absence of decency, his coddling of dictators and white supremacists and outright rejection of democracy and democratic norms grew more horrifying by the day.
As the days, weeks, months, and years of his administration passed, the nation I grew up in became less and less recognizable. And I'm quite sure I'm not alone in that sentiment. Children in cages, separated from their parents. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and alt-right groups marching in the streets and labeled "very fine people." Dictators putting bounties on the heads of American troops with no repercussions. The grift, the corruption, the lies ... it never ended.
As someone who cares deeply for the environment and wildlife, and who lays awake at night worrying about how to save everything from wolves to wild spaces, Trump's affronts turned out to be voluminous and heart wrenching.
He installed climate change deniers and individuals with zero concern for wildlife in key positions, including perhaps most notoriously, putting William Perry Pendley, a man who labeled climate change "man-made fiction" and called climate believers "kooks," in charge of the Bureau of Land Management. Pendley's selection was merely one of many, many outright attacks on the environment.
Trump also weakened the EPA immeasurably and rolled back critical protections of our air and water. The environmental devastation unleased by Trump and his band of criminal cronies has been chronicled by numerous publications, but perhaps most notably in October 2020 when the Washington Post detailed the rollback of some 125 environmental safeguards. As the article pointed out:
"The [Trump] administration has allowed more pollution, drilling and logging while weakening protections for animals such as bees, bears, and birds ... over the course of nearly four years, his administration has steadily loosened oversight of polluting industries, eroded protections for endangered wildlife and stymied Obama-era efforts to address the globe's most daunting environmental threat: climate change."
Before Trump ever arrived on the scene environmentalists were fighting an uphill battle protecting nature and wildlife, and fighting climate change. Trump made every single one of those challenges more difficult. We now have an incredibly long road of recovery and rebuilding ahead of us. And the work will not be easy at any turn.
Adding insult to injury, Trump has continued his soulless, scorched earth policy until the very last moment of his repugnant administration, including the recent announcement that this administration is seeking to develop protected desert land in Southern California, opening it to mining, energy development, and broadband infrastructure.
And still he wasn't done destroying our nation on every level.
In addition to repeatedly denying and lying about the outcome of a free and fair election, and seeking to manipulate and coerce election officials across the nation in order to change the presidential election results in his favor, we all watched in horror the climax of this deranged psychopath's four years in power when his supporters violently stormed the Capitol in an attempted coup. As the world watched, our once great democracy was being undone by a wannabe dictator and his band of violent, conspiracy-believing hoodlums. The Trump-inspired insurrectionists included former members of the military and active duty police, and the entire horrific event was supported and formented by fellow GOP politicians.
In the end, five people died as a result to this sickening attack on our democracy, and still, it doesn't end. Trump insists he has done nothing wrong, and insists on departing Washington as a hero with full military fanfare.
As a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton received immense criticism for describing Trump's followers at one point as deplorables. In retrospect, her comment could not have been more accurate. Not only were his followers deplorable, but so were all of his cabinet appointments, and of course, the biggest deplorable of them all is Trump himself.
As we watch today's inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, there is finally light at the end of this long, dark, tunnel. Finally, this never-ending nightmare appears to be drawing to a close and we can begin to breath a collective sigh of relief. Indeed, I have been immensely heartened by the early appointments made by the incoming administration particularly the selection of Michael Regan, North Carolina's environmental chief and a former EPA air quality specialist, who will head the EPA. Regan is the first Black man to hold this role.
I'm equally heartened by Biden's decision to tap Deb Haaland to run the Department of Interior, making her the first Native American to fill that role and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.
Let that sink in for a moment. Native Americans, a group of people who have suffered an abominable history at the hands of the white people in power, a history that has included being stripped of their rights and lands over the course of time, now have a major seat at the table.
As one supporter of Haaland's appointment noted:
"This is a deep resetting of the federal government's relationship with Native peoples, one that was built on stolen land and broken promises."
A new day has dawned indeed.
Make no mistake, our jobs as environmentalists are far from over. The work ahead of us is more critical and more pressing than ever. But today, as we end the Trump era and usher in a new administration, we do so with a sense of hope that has been completely and totally absent for four years. We start a new chapter led by a new administration that has already shown in a myriad of promising ways that it is acting from a place of far, far more noble and promising intentions.
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.