One reader agreed with Megan Garber’s point that it’s not just the president who undermines facts—the people he surrounds himself with do, too:
Christopher Lett from Easton, Pennsylvania, wrote: “The entire governing philosophy of the Trump administration is neatly encapsulated” by Rudy Giuliani “emphatically declaring” that “Truth isn’t truth!”
Trump has the ability to make fun things less fun, two readers said:
For Irene Maxfield of San Antonio, Texas, Trump questioning a child’s belief in Santa Claus was one of the most unthinkable moments of his presidency thus far.
“I know this is trivial,” Rachel Teplow of New York, New York, wrote, “but I just cannot get over” the fact that Trump “gets two scoops of ice cream while everyone else gets one. What kind of terrible person does this?! Why does it matter how much everyone else has as long as he gets enough? It just bespeaks a unique level of awfulness.”
Finally, one reader commented on the legacy that Trump will leave behind:
Reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece, and then the subsequent 50 unthinkable moments, it becomes clear that it is not the bending of norms that should have us alarmed—it is our incremental desensitization to what constitutes a norm at all.
Because as I worked my way through this partial list, I realized how many of these extraordinary departures from protocol, precedent, and civility had completely slipped my mind. As individuals like me, the media, and all the talking heads find ourselves distracted by each day’s new absurdity—as if we had only so much capacity for outrage—yesterday’s despicable act or omission is quickly lost to memory. Each small violation imperceptibly shifts the curve of our tolerance toward apathy and numbness.
Perhaps Trump’s most lasting legacy is how his comportment has demeaned and debased the majesty of the Oval Office. I wonder if the presidency will ever again convey the gravitas and mystique and moral weight, the aura of quiet and competent power, that befits the United States’ preeminent role in the world. His pandering vacillation, his lack of a moral compass and consistent philosophy, and his inveterate and pathological lying have robbed his words of all authority. Very few take him seriously; every pronouncement is discounted, even ignored. His juvenile behavior has contaminated Congress as well, where hyper-partisanship, childish name-calling, and a winner-take-all mentality have made the average voter utterly cynical about the entire political class. Politics is the art of compromise, but compromise doesn’t happen when only the loudest voices get rewarded.
Of course, Trump’s worst legacy will be his contempt for fact-based argument and his ignorance of science. Climate change is the singular existential challenge of our times. Future generations will look back on his four years in office (we can only hope it stops at four!) with deep despair and utter loathing. Time is getting shorter and the stakes higher, yet nothing gets done. We need leadership, not smirking quips. There was a time when the president of the United States had the moral authority and the competence to provide that leadership. Both have been squandered under Trump. His successor will have a hard job restoring them. It will not help that the solutions to climate change will, by then, need to be that much more draconian and politically unpalatable.
Even after Trump leaves office, his hulking, scowling, belligerent shadow will continue to hang over us all.
Dr. Brian P. H. Green
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada