Listen, I really don’t want to relitigate the 2016 election. It was heart-wrenching, frightening and all-around anxiety-inducing. The most vivid memory I have from the day after the election is walking into school and collapsing into the arms of friends, all of us weeping and disillusioned. But it is important to examine the outcome of the 2016 election through the lens of what we know now.
On Tuesday Sep. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Pelosi, who has previously expressed hesitation on the topic of impeachment, cited a recent whistleblower account of Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden as a “favor” for U.S. defense support. In the announcement, Pelosi stressed Trump must be held accountable for soliciting foreign governments to investigate his political opponents in an attempt to gain an advantage in the 2020 election.
Though impeachment investigations are ramping up, this is certainly not the first controversy of Trump’s presidency, nor is it the first potentially impeachable investigation into his administration. There was a Department of Justice investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether Trump and his campaign conspired with the Russian government in the 2016 election. In this investigation, the former FBI director and his team indicted, convicted or received guilty pleas from 34 individuals and three companies involving top Trump advisers, Russian actors and hackers associated with the Kremlin, which can be found in the full report. There are also several ongoing congressional investigations of Trump, including obstruction of justice and his tax returns.
Of course, the Trump administration is also involved in almost-daily scandals that are not explicitly illegal. A non-comprehensive list includes separating children from their parents at the border, calling majority-people of color countries “shitholes,” nominating a man credibly accused of sexual assault to the Supreme Court, being credibly-accused of sexual assault himself, attempting to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., calling white supremacists “very fine people” and denying the existence of climate change.
It was all this and more, or a woman.
And not just any woman. If not the most, she was one of the most qualified people to run for president ever. She was a Yale-trained lawyer, first lady of the United States, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Yes, she was connected with controversy throughout her public life. And yes, she was slightly more moderate than my own personal politics. But running against a man so unqualified and immoral, she undoubtedly should have been president of the United States.
While Trump and his Republican supporters may believe Democrats are frothing with delight at the thought of impeaching Trump, it does not feel good to be reminded of what could have been. Sure, I’m very comforted by the fact that our efforts in the 2018 midterms will not be all for nothing, but I’m certainly not thrilled at the fact that we have to go to such extreme lengths to stop Trump from committing crimes and trying to use foreign assistance to win the next election. Really though, it feels terrible that had we elected her we may have extended health insurance to millions more Americans, passed laws to stop gun violence and began appropriately responding to the crisis of climate change among several other issues.
As much as we all have the right to be angry on her behalf and on behalf of every single person who has been hurt by Trump’s policies, there is no justice for 2016. There is only redemption in 2020, but impeaching Trump for his crimes will ensure he goes down in history with a scarlett asterisk next to his name, forever indicative of his illegitimacy.
While I am content with watching this administration explode in its own incompetence and criminality, it is worth considering how our failure in 2016 has the potential to fail us again in 2020. And to be clear, coming back from as low as we’ve gone will take an incredible amount of individual and collective self-reflection. With 2020 in full swing as the Democratic caucuses and primaries are mere months away, the impeachment inquiry serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of 2016 and our inability to stop Trump’s ascendancy.
Right now, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden, campaigns heavily on his electability — that he has a unique ability to beat Trump in the general election because he can appeal to the white working class and moderate independent voters, two essential demographic groups to Trump’s win in 2016. One can think he is the best person for the job, but one should choose him for that reason and not some biased notion of electability, which often favors the most privileged among us and marginalizes candidates who don’t look like 44 of the 45 total former U.S. presidents.
To make an electability argument, we have to rely on our instincts about what a president looks like, sounds like and feels like — who inspires us, who we can relate to, who we can imagine as the most powerful leader in the world. But our instincts failed in 2016. We were wrong; all of us, despite who we voted for, are implicated in the election of Donald Trump. Some of us — specifically, about 43 percent of the country — may not want to admit it, but we’ll all look back at this grave error in history with consternation and shame, just as we do with Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon. The only question left is whether we will continue to vote with the same impulses that gave us an impeachable president in the first place — fear, bigotry and nationalism — or we will redeem ourselves by voting with courage and aspiration.
Marisa Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.