I’ve thought about evil a lot in the past four years.
The evil, for instance, of Donald Trump holding the immense power of the presidency and doing nothing to stop a pandemic that has killed over 246,000 Americans — more than the entire population of Forsyth County, Georgia — with no sign of slowing down. Or the evil of sending in the United States Park Police to attack protesters fighting for a country free of white supremacy, just to clear the way for a photo op in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C.
I think about the evil of empowering men like Stephen Miller, whose hostility to documented and undocumented immigrants is rooted in barely-hidden white nationalism, or men like U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, who is working to throw out ballots and overturn an election his boss very clearly lost.
I think about the evil of the “zero tolerance” policy toward asylum seekers, paving the way for honest-to-God concentration camps in the U.S. What we know about these camps is barbaric: forced sterilizations and injections, rampant filth and overcrowding, uncontrolled spread of influenza and sexual abuse of children.
Jeff Sessions, when he was attorney general, specifically targeted children for separation from their parents, regardless of how young they were. To this day, the parents of hundreds of children haven’t been found.
I think about the evil of abandoning any effort to impose federal oversight over municipal police departments, and then openly encouraging police violence against civilians. Trump didn’t start America’s sordid tradition of police violence, but he made it worse, contributing to a wave of police riots targeting protesters they see as subjects to be controlled, not citizens to be accountable to.
I think about the evil of equivocating between white supremacist terrorists and their victims, of enacting a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, of barring transgender people from serving in the military and of refusing to apologize for taking out a full-page advertisement calling for the death of five innocent Black teenagers in 1989.
I think about the people who voted for this once or even twice. Regardless of their rationale — the Republican siren song of lower taxes and deregulation, distaste for Democrats and liberals or fear of riots and looting — they chose evil. Over 73 million Americans witnessed the horror of the past four years, and chose to perpetuate it.
I’m not sure what to do with that knowledge.
Now, it seems, the unique and particular evil of the past four years is coming to an end. The president refuses to recognize his own decisive defeat, but at least for the moment, his legal efforts to affect the outcome have floundered. Joe Biden is president-elect.
But a Biden presidency will likely not end the more mundane evils of American life. Legally sanctioned police brutality, disproportionately directed toward Black people, will continue, as it did before the Trump era. Big-city Democratic leaders, with much more power than the president to affect outcomes, have failed to put the brakes on police violence.
Biden plans on reversing the barbarous expansion of family separation and child detainment along the southern border, but much more must be done before this country’s immigration system can be called anything but monstrous. After all, George W. Bush signed the law creating Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Barack Obama conducted more court-ordered deportations than any of his predecessors.
The evil of American institutions was amplified and worsened by Trump, but it has a very long history before him.
I don’t have a solution. I don’t have a call to action, other than to stare our societal evil in the face and not look away. A tyrant is gone, and that alone is cause for jubilance. But our victory will be fleeting if we don’t examine why he came to power and what evils will persist when he finally leaves.