What's In a Number
Trump's lasting legacy will be a numerical figure.
People are generally remembered for one thing, and it tends either to be the biggest thing they do, the worst thing they do, or the last thing they do. Heaven help if you're a popular figure with an action in your life that manages to be all three. You're doomed. It's a foregone conclusion that'll be your only act which publicly outlasts you.
Trump's legacy will be a number. It will be the number of dead women, men and children who could have lived if he had acted on the coronavirus.
After enough time, most of the other acts will be forgotten. This won't be. People remember numbers. Sometimes men do unforgivable things they are later forgiven for, perhaps because they earnestly try to improve themselves, and the people around them believe humans can grow and change.
There will be no such understanding here.
The number dooms him. It is large enough it can't go away, but that isn't everything: it is also small enough that people can wrap their head around it. These are the ways in which fame becomes ignominy.
I listened to a man on the bus one night, musing to a friend of his. The speaker was a spry, wiry sixty-something, holding a skateboard and sporting silver dreads with a jean jacket and turtleneck, both of sensible size; he was a touch scruffy, a man both educated and earthy, from a multiracial somewhere. He'd talk about fishing. Or skateboarding. But he always had a book under his arm too.
On this night– years ago– he spoke a thought which seemed to come from nowhere. It was a musing unrelated to their conversation, the sort of thing you build up to in your mind, but which to the listener comes as a surprise.
He said, "Man, I'd rather have no money at all, and be respected, than be the richest man in the world and have everybody hate me."
Mr. Trump did not think about that when he entered the public stage. He lacks this man's reflective abilities. Becoming a pariah is one tough rock to climb out from under. You need commitment, charisma, and an ocean of goodwill. He lacks all three.
Years from now, a high school student is going to read about our time period in his history book. He'll be sitting in Social Studies thinking about girls, mildly bored, alternating between looking out the window and idly tapping his pencil eraser on the desk. These will be the days before he settles into himself, those fraught and restless days of youth, when your own problems bounded ahead of you, taking up most of the view. But something will distract him out of his reverie. It'll be the chapter about us.
Way back in the early twenty-first century, they elected a tyrant whose infantile rage and abuses of power recalled ancient Rome, the worst of the monarchies, and mid-1900s Europe and Asia. Despite having a democratic system designed from the start to prevent precisely such occurrences– all that stuff about checks and balances we had to study last month– he will learn that no action was taken. A flawed voting system resulted in a despot taking over and abusing others exactly as he was predicted to do, and worse. Much worse.
Then they voted him into office again.
When he reads that he'll pause. They also didn't fix the election system that got him there in the first place? His earlier reverie is forgotten. He is now very interested. Riveted, actually. And confused.
"Wow," he'll think. "They must have been complete morons."
He will be right.
We aren't given a lot of chances to actually do something about world affairs. I know it's discouraging. I tend to focus on what I can do for other people on an individual level; there you can do a lot. More than you think. But we do get one chance to make a difference on the larger stage, and this is that chance. Don't not vote, and then walk in marches later. You want to be qualified to complain, right?
Vote. Let the future see that you tried.
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