Every four years, pundits proclaim that "this is the most important election of our lifetimes." In 2016, we now know, it was actually true. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency was an asteroid strike that profoundly altered America's political and cultural landscape. Six years ago, Trump offered a devil's bargain to evangelical Christians: If they gave a thrice-married, biblically illiterate New York City libertine their vote, he'd deliver Supreme Court justices who'd overturn Roe and promote a conservative Christian agenda. Trump delivered, with help from Mitch McConnell and Democrats who stayed home in 2016 or voted for Jill Stein because of their distaste for Hillary Clinton. Trump appointed three Federalist Society-minted justices who, last week, gleefully erased Roe — triggering a war between the states over abortion whose consequences we can only dimly glimpse.
But Trump's legacy goes far beyond the 6-3 court now detonating decades of precedents. The Jan. 6 committee hearings have further revealed the 45th president in all his plate-flinging, foaming-at-the-mouth, narcissistic glory — his contempt for democracy, institutions, and traditions; his use of lies, intimidation, and violence to achieve his ends; his animating belief that winning is all that matters. Over four exhausting years, our titular national leader's madness infected the country like a virus. Threats and acts of violence against political enemies have become routine. Hatred, bullying, and "alternative facts" have been validated; meanness is in the air. The red/blue divide Trump deliberately deepened feels increasingly irreparable. In the immediate future, there will be prosecutions of Trump allies and perhaps Trump himself, and then payback investigations by Republicans — and if they control the House, the impeachment of Joe Biden. Beyond that, we can count on nothing, except that Trump's poisonous impact on this nation will linger long after he's dead.