Maybe “surviving” is too strong a word. More like “enduring,” or “persisting” or just plain “having patience.”

Back on May 24, 2020, when the New York Times devoted its entire front page and three inside pages to the names of the 100,000 Americans who had died from Covid-19, it seemed like a shock to be shown the extent of the national tragedy. Now, eight months later, the death toll has reached 400,000, which by my reckoning exceeds the number of our dead from World War One, World War two, the Korean War and the Vietnam Wars combined. It makes for an incredibly depressing exercise and a reminder of the slow-motion nightmare we have been through.

Four years ago, when he became president, I warned my friends and colleagues about what we were in for. Some thought I was exaggerating and that our political institutions would provide the necessary guardrails. Others agreed he was unusual to an extreme but figured the adults in the room would contain him. For many liberal observers, it was all just part of a normal political cycle, the ebbs and flows, highs and low, which we had been through before and would go through again.

I knew Trump personally from my days as a golf writer. Between 2008 and 2013 or so, I had many encounters with him in my capacity as architecture editor of a national publication and as critic whose regular columns and “ratings lists” that I compiled by committee vote were watched closely in the industry. A lot of course owners vied for recognition, but nobody competed, cajoled, lobbied, threatened and blustered his way like Trump. And I was certainly not the only golf journalist subject to his flattery and threats. He’d call the house and yell at me or boast about some great new project he was doing. I sat in his office half a dozen times, traveled in his jet plane to projects, visited his golf course project in Scotland several times to get an early look and tell him what I thought – though he never listened.

When it came time for the opening of the course in Aberdeen I flew over with him and the family, stayed with them for the ceremonies and golf, and flew back exhausted, depressed and more than a little unsettled about the way he was doing business.

It was just golf stuff back then that I saw, but it was ugly. He surrounded himself with grifters and cheap, lowlife business men and women who flattered him and who in turn, he buddied up with, though never on terms that seemed personal or mutually engaged. He had nothing but contempt for the Scottish people. Everything was phony, down to the paid-for media scrum he arranged as he alighted from his 757. 

All he wanted from me were good ratings, and he openly said he’d do anything to get them. “I’ll take out ads in the magazine, if that will help,” he told me once on the phone. “Mr. Trump,” I said, “I can’t have this conversation. You’re fired.”

I wish that had been the end of it. But it wasn’t. And when he was elected in 2016 following a disgusting campaign that consisted of little more than racist lies and misogynistic attacks on women and relentless assaults on the press, the physically challenged, poor people and minorities, I knew we were in for trouble. I just didn’t know how much.

The way he treats the public and his own “base” resembles the way an abusive man treats women. People who have been in violent domestic relationship might recognize the pattern. You know the type – if not personally then from noir movies and books. He’s the kind of guy who will dress his girlfriend up in pretty clothes and jewelry, flatter her, screw her, then throw her down the stairs, kick her in the face, pick her up and flatter her again and put her in another pretty dress so he can repeat the cycle of abuse, expecting her to be grateful for the attention she gets and blaming her for his outbursts.

Now take that behavior and translate it to a larger, public stage. That’s what we have witnessed and put up with for the last four years. It’s been exhausting and demeaning. Let’s also hope it’s been a lesson learned.

We are now over the worst of it. He is gone from the center of power, shunted off to the periphery. As a country we have a lot of healing to do. There’s no reason to think that the violence and hatred he’s unleashed will go away soon. But at least the most immediate threat has subsided.

We’ve awakened from the nightmare. Unlike the 400,000 fatalities – many of which were needless deaths due to his negligent handling of the pandemic – we can say we have survived. Or endured.

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This article has 8 comments

  1. Arthur Little Reply

    Brad,
    You had it right about Trump.
    While I never met him, I figured him out in the early 1980s.
    It may have been the disgraceful way he treated contractors and sub contractors.
    Many people in the development business cheated this group of people badly, but
    Trump brought it to a new standard.
    I’m sure you must have seen a recent interview with President Obama..
    When asked about the meeting with Trump in the White House, he was asked if he had concerns about Trump, he said he was very concerned.
    When asked about whether his concerns proved justified, he answered…”Worse.”
    Thanks for continuing to share your thoughts.
    Arthur Little

  2. Robert A. Legg Reply

    Brad — As a charter member of your publication’s rating panel I can attest to much of what you wrote. As well, I was in our group at Bedminster when Trump prattled on for an hour about how great his courses were and how we as raters needed to better understand their greatness. Most illuminating was his locker room, a stark contrast to those of some of the very best clubs in the world which featured their histories, design concept and evolvement, etc: pure golf. But Trump’s was replete with reproductions of magazine covers picturing The Donald. The magazines might not have had anything to do with golf, but that was beside the point.
    A final observation: my wife and I have had conversations pondering what our fathers, both successful New York businessmen and GOP advocates, might have thought of Trump. We concluded that both so valued and practiced integrity that neither would have wanted anything to do with Trump.

  3. Alice Sayles Reply

    Brad, wonderful writing, and so interesting to hear your personal account.

  4. Barbara Escher Reply

    I wouldn’t say I was lucky to be attuned to violence and bigotry at an early age, but I never saw any hope that Trump would change or that any “guardrails” would contain him. My hope today is that the “norms” and guardrails we counted on will be written into law so that we don’t have to count on the integrity and honor of future presidents. This one had neither. And it could happen again if we don’t take steps to prevent it. One of the things that needs to change is the “opinion” in the Justice Department that a sitting president cannot be indicted. That puts a president above the law, and that “opinion” has got to go. Thank you for another painful but excellent article.

  5. Bradley Klein Reply

    Marvin, you put it pretty dramatically and I cannot disagree. I always wonder if these people actually believe this stuff. And then I realize they wonder if we believe the things we do, and that’s when I figure they actually believe that garbage. Hard to figure out. It does not bode well for moving on. It would help if a few Congresspersons would actually tell them that the lies were all lies.

  6. Marvin Weishaus Reply

    What the last 4 years have shown me, perhaps first and foremost, is the limitless human capacity for self-delusion. The ability for otherwise functional human beings to so dramatically pull the wool over their own eyes, replace glaring facts with alternative ones, and fall prey to a relentless stream of fiction and fantasy.
    And then, to act at great risk to life and limb, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, to defend and propagate this alternate reality is a telling commentary on the fragility of the human intellect. Cabals of child-trafficking cannibals running the Deep State through Joe Biden look-alikes? Yes my friends, people actually believe this stuff. Unthinkable events of the past, the rise of despots, the genocides, the unspeakable horrors – all have become just a little bit more possible to most of us who have never experienced such nightmares. The Trump years have revealed this glaring, shocking flaw – our genetic propensity for mass indoctrination in those without the analytical propensity to understand, rise above, and resist. Dark times behind us, dark times ahead – before this madness can be wrung out of society. I fear it will take nothing less than an evolutionary advance in the species to bring about universal sanity. Never-the-less, we persist.

  7. Bradley Klein Reply

    Mike, I left a lot out, both the level of my involvement and the degree to which I became subject of his scorn. But it doesn’t change the basic story.

  8. Michael Gallner Reply

    Thank you for your insight. This was really eye-opening, even though I suspected that you had personal experiences involving the soon to be former chief executive. Bradley, you certainly keep your cards close to your vest. I would want you in my foxhole, if things ever went that far. You are a wonderful writer.

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