How should the United States move forward now that President Trump no longer holds office? History offers a menu of parallels, processes and procedures. But which are appropriate for the United States today?
While many would wish to forget Mr. Trump, this approach does not pass the George Santayana test. As he reminded us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Trump and the German precedent
Denazification might seem like a natural model to many passionate Trump opponents.
However, I do not believe the current situation in the United States has enough in common with postwar Germany to serve as the right model.
Trump and Mao
Others might note parallels between Donald Trump and Mao Zedong. Both leaders rode a noxious mix of populism and anti-elitism to power.
Trump ran roughshod over the Republican establishment in much the same way as Mao upended the Communist establishment. Both, by the end, ended up railing against the systems and people they had put in place.
My Spanish story: On being forgotten
However, my preferred historical precedent to rid the United States of Trump’s spirit is much more personal.
My father grew up in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. He came to the United States as an 18-year-old. He never returned to Spain during rule of Francisco Franco — but only after Spain had completed the transition to democracy.
When my father returned to Spain for the first time, my mother and I — as a ten-year old — accompanied him. Our family traveled to a parliamentary democracy — not to a Francoist dictatorship.
A wonderful visit
For me as a young child, it was a wonderful visit. I loved every minute. I met my paternal grandmother, aunts and uncles, and scores of cousins.
From afar, we enjoyed television broadcasts of the Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles in that summer of 1984 (when the United States and Spain took the gold and silver medals in basketball!).
I also eagerly absorbed the history of my father’s country of birth by visiting countless historical sites and museums.
But to my mind, even though I was a child, there was something that did not quite add up. I noticed a coin, and Franco’s face was on the currency. (In the days before the euro, Spain had a currency called the peseta).
The face on the coin
Now, the idea of having historical figures on money was familiar to me: George Washington on the dollar bill and the 25-cent coin made perfect sense.
After all, Washington was a respected historical figure: A general, a founding father and the first president — among other things. It made sense for his face to be on a coin.
Franco was not like that. Franco may have been a general, but he had become a dictator that the Spanish nation had been glad to slough off.
Being a child, I did what children do best and asked a question. I asked why Franco’s image was on the coin even though he himself was gone.
Not only gone but forgotten
I have never forgotten the answer: “It is proof that he is not only gone but forgotten.”
That answer has remained with me all my life. This was not the forgetfulness of history Santayana had warned against.
This was a society saying: “Forget about it. Forget about him. He is not worth your time or energy.”
Franco was not worth the time or energy needed to remove him from the coin. That is the point we in the United States must reach with regard to Donald Trump.
It is time for the United States to pay attention and to forget about President Trump — but in the Spanish sense.
That is the necessary first step toward restoring trust in the United States both at home and abroad.