The last four years have been divisive and exhausting. But, for many, they were also a call to change what we can control: our own lives.
I recently wrote about how Donald Trump became my unlikely #fitspo, getting me to the gym regularly for the first time since middle school physical education class. Channeling the powerlessness I felt into something productive inspired me to do other things differently, too. I started volunteering more, creating more content with social purpose and working at The Times. These incremental changes added up to a positive impact on my life — they gave me a clarity of mind and purpose, and helped me regain an optimism I had briefly lost.
We asked readers what changes the 2016 presidential election inspired them to make in their own lives. And whether — next month, when President Trump steps down — those habits will stick.
Most were inspired to “get power” back — whether by paving a path to the boardroom or by organizing lawn signs in a local election. Several, some Republicans and some Democrats, stepped outside of their party lines. Some people planted trees. Others ran, swam or marched. Many people did these things for the first time. And almost everyone committed to keeping up these habits — making them resolutions for the next four years, and likely beyond.
A selection of their responses follows. They have been edited for length and clarity.
To Take Power Back
‘I want to be at the table when the next Donald Trump shows up.’
Over the last four years, I’ve refocused my career on accumulating money and power rather than finding my “passion,” whatever that means.
When Donald Trump won, I couldn’t stop imagining the board rooms of powerful white men in charge of billions in capital who decided over and over again to lend him money and give him more power, more forgiveness, more visibility. What if more women had been in those rooms? Women with the power to sign the check, who said: “Nah, this guy rubs me the wrong way. I’ll invest in the next one.”
This is what I tell younger female colleagues now: Get money. Get power. Get a seat at the table where decisions are being made about men like Trump. It turns out, I like being in “the room where it happens.” It’s fun. And having more power at work makes me feel less stressed and less anxious.
When Joe Biden becomes president, I don’t see my behaviors changing. I want to be at the table when the next Donald Trump shows up. — Anna Scott, 34, Seattle
‘I found an email address and reached out.’
When Donald Trump was elected, I was shocked and depressed. I couldn’t stop talking about how horrible Trump was, and I considered moving to another country.
Then I read an article tucked away in the corner of an online paper about a guy named Andy Kim. He was contemplating running against my congressman (a multimillionaire who shared none of my values). I found an email address and reached out.
Andy was the underdog, with a small office in an old bank and no furniture. We donated a desk that became Andy’s first desk. I stamped envelopes for him, made calls and brought food to his events. Andy won! And then he won a second term in 2020!
I made other commitments, too — including to become more active. I started swimming more. It cleared my head, even though sometimes I cried through my backstroke. I also danced to Bruno Mars. I’ve lost 50 pounds. And I feel so much healthier, in body and mind. — Rosemary Reichard, Old … but not that old … Marlton, N.J.
‘I can’t stop, because I’ve realized grass-roots organizing is the only way that change happens.’
I became the lawn sign organizer for a state representative candidate in 2018 (she won) and in 2020 (when she won again — this time for a state Senate seat). I did the same job for our a U.S. Senate race (that candidate lost, unfortunately.) In addition, I penned hundreds of letters and made those dreaded phone calls we all hate receiving. I can’t stop, because I’ve realized grass-roots organizing is the only way that change happens. — Gail Darling, 75, Maine
To Remember That Political Party Isn’t Everything
‘I’ll take a stronger and more public stand, even if it’s unpopular.’
As a Republican who worked for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, these last four years woke me up to the reality that principles matter more than party affiliation.
Looking back, I realize I took our democracy and social norms for granted in 2016. Donald Trump’s candidacy seemed comical back then. I assumed that he would get filtered out in some way, shape or form by some other force. Of course, he did not. As his rhetoric and actions unfolded dangerously in the last four years, by 2020 I was finally inspired to do something different than what I did (or, more accurately, what I didn’t do) in 2016. So this year, I joined alumni from the Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush campaigns to publicly endorse Joe Biden.
In the last four years, I watched my daughter turn 1, and my wife and I had a second child. This, too, has been a wake-up call to me to accept more responsibility. Moving forward, I’ll take a stronger and more public stand, even if it’s unpopular. — John Voith, 36, Wellesley, Mass.
‘I realized that liberals need to stop shaming and talking down to conservatives.’
I got involved in this election. I will get involved in others going forward. But also, I realized that liberals need to stop shaming and talking down to conservatives who supported Trump. I may not agree with them, but they have an opinion. At least 74 million opinions it seems. — Anthony Morrison, 59, Palm Beach, Fla.
To Invest in the Environment
‘I’ve thrown myself into trees. Not into them, literally. But into planting them.’
I took to running, but I didn't keep it up. I took to doing push-ups in the morning, which I have kept up. It makes my heart feel better. I’ve become (I hope) a kinder, more inquisitive friend with my conservative neighbors. And finally, I’ve thrown myself into trees. Not into them, literally. But into planting them. I’ve collected thousands of acorns, seeds, cones, samaras, and I now have a nursery of small trees that I regularly push into the ground. — David Cater, 51, Colmesneil, Texas
‘I continue to be motivated to help future generations survive.’
I will continue my hiking and gardening and yoga to keep my mind and body healthy. I will also be focused on helping my family and my community make changes that cut our personal greenhouse gas emissions. I continue to be motivated to help future generations survive climate chaos. And now that Trump is out of our way, finding the opportunities for change is a bit easier. — Emma Stamas, 73, Colrain, Mass.
To Get Active — Physically, and Politically
“I dug out a pair of sneakers and started running.”
The day Trump was elected, I had so much anger inside of me I thought I would combust. I dug out a pair of sneakers and started running outdoors no matter what the weather. It never failed that each day I would hear something that enraged me about what was happening, and I would put all of that anxiety into my run so I could be a pleasant member of my family.
Over these four years, I have run out of fear, boredom, anxiety and the need for time alone. I hate saying this, but Trump as president was very good for my physical health. The jury is still out on my emotional well-being. — Renee Lesson, 56, New York City
‘I’ll be back at it in 2021, at age 91.’
At 89, I have to back down when it comes to marching, but I joined an exercise group and a political postcard-writing group. The latter keeps my hands and mind limber, while the former keeps the rest of me! I’m taking a “gap year” in 2020. But I’ll be back at it in 2021, at age 91. — Bindy Bitterman, 89, Chicago
‘I’ve protested in front of the White House and marched through the streets of New Orleans.’
At some point early on in Trump’s presidency, I received a bumper sticker with a photo of President Barack Obama and a quote from him: “The best thing to do to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” I stuck it on my car. When I changed cars, I peeled it off and stuck it on the new one.
With that inspiration, I phone-bank and write postcards to voters. I call and write to my congressional representatives. And I donate to multiple nonprofits. I’ve protested in front of the White House and marched through the streets of New Orleans in support of Planned Parenthood, common-sense gun laws, health care, the climate, Black Lives Matter, immigration rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights. I protested with friends in front of our senator’s office. And I even testified in a Senate hearing at my state capitol.
Most of these things I had never done before, and I’m 62 years old! In the process, I’ve made some of the best friends I could ever ask for. — Marianne Everard Burns, 62, New Orleans
To Keep Going — Even if Our Motivations May Now Be Different
'I don’t expect my behaviors to change much during the Biden administration.’
After the 2016 election, something changed. I started lifting weights more intensely. I also got back into martial arts, which I hadn’t done since the early ’90s.
While those changes were driven more by feelings of anger and frustration, I also found myself wanting to improve my country and counteract some of the damage. In 2017, I participated in protests for the first time in my life. I joined my wife, daughter and friends at a local Women’s March and at the March for Science in Washington. I participated in these marches each year, until the pandemic struck.
I made it a point to donate blood as often as I could, sometimes hitting six donations in a year. And finally, I did more at my workplace to make a difference for young people — leading student tours and mentoring undergraduates.
I don’t expect my behaviors to change much during the Biden administration. My motivation will likely be different, but the habits feel baked in. — Robert Sinkovits, 57, San Diego
Nayeema Raza is a documentary filmmaker and a senior producer in Opinion.
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