On the morning of November 9, 2016, I woke up in San Francisco terrified by what the world might look like at the end of 2020.
I had gone to sleep the night before fearing what looked to be a likely Trump victory. I woke, unforgettably, to The New York Times' headline "Trump Triumphs".
I remember looking out the window of the apartment I was staying in, seeing mountains in the distance, and comforting myself with the thought that there remained some constancies in the world. I told myself that, in all probability, the mountains would still be there when Trump left office.
Although I have not seen those mountains since that trip, I assume this is the case. But four years later the Earth has nevertheless moved under the feet of America's political class.
Many prominent figures, including President-elect Joe Biden, seem ready to emerge from these past four tumultuous years with a desire to erase them from memory and return to the time before Trump, a time of supposed civility and bipartisanship. Of course, those conditions also happen to be the ones that laid the foundation for Trump's ascension. And it's important to remember that Trump is not the first president to demonstrate the risks of such a concentration of executive power in a single individual - he is simply the one who has done so most recently, and most showily.
Rather than seeing Trump as an aberration, as a figure who tainted the otherwise respectable history of the office, we should see him as its logical endpoint: a megalomaniac attracted to the idea of the American president as the world's foremost celebrity. Aside from the damage he himself has done, he has clarified the office's enormously devastating potential. There's nothing to indicate it won't later be occupied by someone with similarly corrupt intent and disregard for others' wellbeing, but without the personal flaws that have checked his ability to act on his worst instincts.
The lesson to take from Trump's presidency is that the office he has occupied should not exist.
The fact that such a man was not only elected but remained in office for a full term, neglecting his duties and racking up offences, shows that the presidency in its current condition is outmoded and unsafe.
It is endowed with too much power in some areas - sole access to the nuclear codes being the most existentially fraught - and not enough in others.
Without Democratic control of the Senate, which will depend on the upcoming Georgia runoff elections, Joe Biden will be unable to pass any meaningful legislation (including laws to take action on climate change), nor is there much he can do to counter structural skews that give Republicans an unfair electoral advantage across numerous critical states. The same is true for the legislative ambitions of the other side. It remains easy for a president to hollow out institutions, but near impossible for one to build them.
American institutions have shown some resilience. Trump has so far been unable to overturn his election loss; he has not, as promised, locked up Hillary Clinton, or even repealed Obamacare. Yet the country has had to endure four years of a president who has flagrantly exemplified the position's greatest dangers. His authority has allowed him to model a rhetoric of conspiracy now adopted by grifters everywhere (several Sky News hosts, for example, seem to imitate his cadence), groundlessly casting doubt on election results and scientific expertise, among other things. His careless tweets have triggered legal and geopolitical chaos; he has pardoned war criminals, as well as allies convicted of corruption that enriched and empowered him; he has banned citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the country, and he has engaged in brazenly nepotistic hiring practices. His only competencies appear to be arranging time for golfing (which, blissfully, distracts him from the destructive work of his presidency), hosting rallies to bolster his ego courtesy of his most slavishly devoted fans, and doing whatever it takes to capture the media's attention.
The fact that such a man was not only elected but remained in office for a full term, neglecting his duties and racking up offences, shows that the presidency in its current condition is outmoded and unsafe. That the fate of so many should hang in the balance dependent on the whims and fancies of one person, often not elected by a majority, is absurd.
Making the presidency purely ceremonial, or removing it entirely, would by no means cure the many societal ills currently afflicting America (and the world). But the notion of investing, say, the pardon power in a body that could be equipped with the expertise, experience and time to make careful and effective decisions, accountable to Congress, shouldn't be viewed as a radical notion when compared to investing it in an individual who has just been shown the door and is by all accounts consumed with the prospect of criminal prosecution when he leaves office.
Many countries - our own, for example - benefit from a system in which the executive is drawn from the legislature - a body which, while by no means perfect, tends to be swift-acting when it comes to dispatching leaders who prove themselves incapable of effectively performing the role.
Donald Trump has power because he inherited his father's wealth, which he largely squandered. His behaviour in any position outside politics or the family business would surely result in his being shown the door. He oversaw increasing inequality, increasing polarisation, and the deaths of 340,000 Americans from COVID-19; he was repeatedly ableist, racist, and misogynist; he flirted with a North Korean nuclear war, recklessly intimidated Iran, and mused openly about whether coronavirus victims should be injected with bleach. But because he was the American president, nobody was both able and willing to stop him.
If a position with such power didn't exist, and one were to suggest its creation, the proposition would be treated as wildly irresponsible. On January 20, Trump should not simply be fired; it is time for his position to be made redundant.
- Dan Dixon is a writer who teaches at the University of Sydney. He writes about literature, culture, politics, and America.