The Shipwreck of a Democracy: Trump and the Aftermath 

Photograph Source: Marco VerchCC BY 2.0

Make no mistake, this was not an accident. No unforeseen iceberg, sudden change in weather, or misfire in the engine. Yes, there were errors in the original design—poor construction, oversights, blind spots—which made the ship vulnerable, despite the unrelenting claims of its greatness. So yes, we did know the danger as we sailed along, even admitted to some level of fear from time to time, yet when the ship finally took that hit and shook violently, our response was still one of absolute shock.

The captain is either the last to leave the ship or goes down with it; this is what the maritime tradition dictates. It is the captain’s social and legal responsibility to wait for all other crew and passengers to evacuate. To save the ship and everyone in it or die trying. But what if it is the captain who decides to sink the ship? What happens then?

The Captain, after all, has always believed that he could get away with violence. Once he even boasted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Perhaps, he later realized that was not sensational enough; there are so many Americans shooting other Americans already. He could stage a greater spectacle than that. A tremendous spectacle. And so he made his announcement: “Be there, will be wild!”

“We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you.  We are going to the Capitol,” declared the Captain. Then he turned around to jump ship so he could watch the show on television.

Face-paints, Confederate flags, Camp Auschwitz t-shirts, zip ties. Scaling walls, breaking through windows, ransacking, stealing. Tweeting selfies and livestreaming all the way.

Now we look into the waters to see the ruins, to understand how much of the structure remains.

The cargo boxes that were onboard have already washed upon the shore: Blind patriotism, white supremacy, misogyny, racism, bigotry, willful ignorance, moral indifference. They lay under the sun, in plain sight. A deteriorating culture of fear and resentment. Exposed and yet oblivious.

The remnants of the ship have sunk deep into the abyss. As the metals corrode, materials decay, a salvage operation will need to take place, into the deep, the dark, the underworld to determine the conditions and value of what has been lost and understand what can be possibly retrieved. What ideals of democracy, equality, freedom though damaged can we reclaim? What kind of trust in the institutions, leadership, public service, civil society, civic engagement? Whose interpretation of history will we strive to recover? Which flags? Which monuments? Whose life, liberty, and whose pursuit of happiness will we rescue? Whose rights? Whose votes? Whose facts?

A new though familiar captain with his new though familiar crew is coming along to steer America onward; but there cannot be forward motion until we first go downward all the way to the bottom to behold the wreckage. Recognize, own, and mourn each piece from the frame of the vessel to the contents of the cargo. Only then can we decide what we must resurrect and what we must forgo as an offering to Hades.

Ipek S. Burnett is a depth psychologist and Turkish novelist living in San Francisco. She’s the author of A Jungian Inquiry into the American Psyche: The Violence of Innocence (Routledge, 2019). For more information visit: