Somehow it seems appropriate to begin a farewell to the 45th president of the United States with the notorious phrase attributed to Julius Caesar: “Veni, vidi, vici,” or “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Greek historian Appian asserts the Roman emperor issued these words around 47 B.C. in a letter to the Roman Senate following a short and decisive battle. Even today, this phrase is most often used to indicate an expeditious and irrefutable victory.
Perhaps there are other similarities between Caesar and Trump: The people loved them, but the ruling class despised them. Both men launched myriad institutional reforms amid a decaying political class. However, in the case of Caesar, he became a dictator, which is very much in line with what Trump’s political enemies accuse him of – authoritarian tendencies.
But what is the reality and where lies the truth about Donald J. Trump and his four short years as president? This, of course, depends upon whom you ask. Those who “got” Trump and understood the man and his mission ultimately became part of a political movement. Those who could not understand either the man or his mission loathed and abhorred him. There is one evident truth about Trump – no one is lukewarm about him. He brought out the extremes in people, in those who loved him and those who hated him.
Because Trump was a man on a mission, he was entirely incapable of suffering fools gladly. This was reflected in his bawdy and harsh rhetoric. Trumpists heard him with a different ear than those who could not bear him. His band of deplorables appreciated his wisecracks and often heard him say out loud what they were feeling. This man-of-the-people style of behavior is why millions of Americans could relate to a New York billionaire. What some understood as plain-speaking, others found offensive. So-called never-Trumpers were continually affronted by his offhand humor and willingness to scorn those who disagreed with him.
In many ways, Trump was a mirror, and how the American people reacted to his methods and goals ultimately said more about us than about him. He helped us see more clearly what we valued, where our priorities should lie, and what we want the future to look like for our children and grandchildren. While Trump was and is unique, no one with a thorough reading of the history of our republic and its leaders can safely say there was no other like him. The Andrew Jacksons and the Teddy Roosevelts of the past belie this myth.
Still, it must be said that Trump’s mission has energized U.S. politics in a way not seen in a very long time. His brief period at the pinnacle of power will forever be remembered fondly by those who chanted “We love you” at his rallies and derided by those who found him nothing short of evil. As such, it is doubtful a man like Trump will go quietly into the night. This is the anxious and persistent fear of those who detest him and his movement and the most fervent hope of those who felt all along that Trump was exactly the right man for such a time as this.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.