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Thank You, President Trump, For Bringing Me Back To My Democracy

The president I didn't want, writes Janna Malamud Smith, has awakened my passion for political activism. (Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash)MoreCloseclosemore
The president I didn't want, writes Janna Malamud Smith, has awakened my passion for political activism. (Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash)
COMMENTARY

Talk about unintended consequences: It turns out I owe a debt of gratitude to President Trump. Had he not threatened every single value I hold, I would never have rediscovered the joys of citizenship and political activism. I’d gotten lazy since I last came face-to-face with my local elected officials during an anti-Gulf War protest more than 25 years ago. And now? I’m flying the flag, and even feeling moments of hope.

Recently, my husband and I went to hear our representative — Democrat Stephen Lynch in the 8th District — speak to several hundred concerned constituents in the well-lit auditorium of a local high school. As he talked about national safety and constitutional rights, the congressman seemed a little weary — and who can blame him? He said the president’s early weeks in office already felt like a year. I agreed.

But this very low-key man brought tears to my eyes merely by talking about mundane details of legislation, trips he’s taken to the Middle East, his work with Republicans. He actually cares about his constituents, I thought, not just his ego. Yes, he is always running for reelection, and yes, I am more progressive than he is. I have reservations about some of his votes. But it was a relief to listen to a civic-minded politician who takes the work of government seriously.

Had Mr. Trump not become president, I likely wouldn’t know what my congressman looks like in person, much less appreciate his dedication.

The congressman told a heart-rending story about helping a burned Syrian child travel from a refugee camp in Afghanistan to one of the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Texas. I was moved, partly because I was reminded that some politicians still believe our government can help people who live outside our borders. (Most Syrian refugees don’t want to come to America, he told us. They are more likely to have family in France or Germany, and want to emigrate there.)

By my lights, Lynch muffed the question about backing a single-player health care plan, but he did claim he read the whole Affordable Care Act before he voted against it. And he carefully explained his objections — that drug companies made out like bandits — as well as his reasons for supporting it more recently.

Had Mr. Trump not become president, I likely wouldn’t know what my congressman looks like in person, much less appreciate his dedication. Our president has awakened my passion for political activism, last employed years ago against George W. Bush, at his first inauguration; the Iraq War; the Gulf War; the nuclear arms race; and Vietnam.

Another day this winter, my husband and I drove to Logan International Airport to help greet and welcome green-card and visa holders arriving from some of the seven banned countries in Trump's executive order, now stayed by the courts. We joined folks from SURJ Boston, immigration lawyers, lots of family members and a passel of reporters — probably more than a hundred of us in all. We were rooting for Saira — a graduate student from Iran attending The City University of New York, who had already been sent back once (after 18 hours locked in a room) and now, was trying again. Several of her friends and school administrators had driven from New York City to meet her. The thrill of seeing her arrive was worth the wait.

Whether I’d consciously chosen to do so or not -- give or take some protesting and canvassing -- I had drifted into the silly notion that I could allow my democracy to be run by others.

She wasn't the only attraction. We cheered when the mother of a New Jersey man finally walked through the doors. She’d spent nine months in Germany getting her visa only to be blocked by Trump's ban the day before her flight. And then the grandmother of a tiny girl made it out, too, after three tries.

Had Mr. Trump not become president, I wouldn't have been able to feel so proud of so many people fighting together for the rights of immigrants.

We also hosted a meeting of “Indivisible” -- local groups of people around the country organizing to fight against Trump's political agenda —  in our house. Twenty people came, which is about six more than our living room can comfortably hold. It was cozy, and satisfying. Everyone took turns speaking and thinking about effective ways to participate in the grass-roots effort. Had Trump not become president, I would have missed re-experiencing the youthful joy of meeting with highly committed strangers to work toward a common goal.

Whether I’d consciously chosen to do so or not, I had drifted into the silly notion — give or take some protesting and canvassing -- that I could allow my democracy to be run by others. I would give anything for a different outcome in November. But since we are where we are, I thank you, President Trump, for reminding me of my core principles, and of my country’s, for helping me meet so many like-minded citizens, and for shoving me back into the excitement of political work and all its attendant hope.

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Janna Malamud Smith Cognoscenti contributor
Janna Malamud Smith is a psychotherapist and writer.

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