I Survived the Trump Presidency, and All I Can Feel is Guilt

I Survived the Trump Presidency, and All I Can Feel is Guilt

The complicated feelings following the end of the most traumatic presidency of my lifetime

I guess I’m supposed to be happy today. I’m supposed to feel that because the deadliest, most corrupt, most villainous president of my lifetime is gone, that I’m waking up to a new, more joyous day. And, personal politics about Biden aside, he is going to be objectively better, less deadly, and less corrupt than the avowed racist who left the White House yesterday. Today is going to be a better day for all of us than yesterday was, let alone the day Donald Trump was inaugurated. I should feel some sort of joy about this.

But I don’t. I feel like I shouldn’t be here.

There’s going to be a lot of celebrating the fact that we made it through these four years. But I don’t feel celebratory about surviving. I feel guilt. Because so many of us didn’t make it — and so many of those who didn’t make it look just like me.

Trump has been partly to blame for a plague that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, with death rates highest among people of color. He separated families and put children in cages. He stoked the flames of White supremacy that endangered and killed an unknowable number of us. He perpetuated the very American tradition of drone strikes, but at a level of cruelty beyond what we’d seen previously, devastating the lives of our brothers and sisters abroad. These past four years have been marked with endless death, tragedy, and trauma.

Watching the end of the Trump presidency feels like the end of a war where the only reason I survived was by happening not to step on a land mine.

Donald Trump’s reign of terror was omnipresent. None of us were safe. We’ve buried too many friends and family and watched too many people who could’ve been us have their lives snuffed out by the very White supremacy that caused his presidency. To make it to the other side, while so many people who should have didn’t, feels more like luck than anything else. It feels wrong. It feels like something I don’t deserve.

Yes, we made it, but it doesn’t feel like a whole “we.” It feels like too many big chunks of our being were left in the wreckage and I don’t know when we’ll ever be whole again. Part of it all is trying to wrap our brains around how close this came to being worse. How we were on the precipice of a coup that would have unleashed unchecked anarchy aimed directly at Black folks who had the audacity to vote. How close we were to world wars. To launching nuclear warheads to prove a point. To Covid being even deadlier.

One of the biggest tragedies is the fact we are still being tasked with the duty of survival. The wars are still there, the disease still raging, the weaponized Whiteness that spawned Trump still tainting our jobs and apartment complexes and police forces. The exhaustion of having made it through these years compounded by the realization that no matter how much brighter our realities may feel this morning, we have to continue surviving without an end. The end of the Trump presidency is just another landmark moment that we can’t believe we lived through; all in a crowd of moments in our Black American lives where we can’t understand how we woke up the next morning.

Sometimes I feel like being Black and alive is to have survivor’s guilt because we are so often surrounded by reminders that we live in a country solely dedicated to our eradication. Nothing I can do can free me from the grip of death by anti-Blackness. That feels especially true this morning. Watching the end of the Trump presidency feels like the end of a war where the only reason I survived was by happening not to step on a land mine.

But as with any case of survivor’s guilt, we can’t simply dwell on the pain of having made it. The people who didn’t make it deserve better than that. We have to walk a tightrope between finding joy in our existence, mourning those who aren’t here, and honoring their lives with our own. To feel shame for living to see a world where Trump is no longer president is to shortchange the people no longer here. We have to live our lives so that those who come after us don’t have to endure what we’ve endured.

I may still be thinking my way through what this changing of the guard means, thinking my way through my own feelings about it, but I know one thing: We need to allow ourselves the grace to be thankful we’re here. To mourn who isn’t. And to sit in whatever our feelings may be. Because today, the fight begins anew.